Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
The blackbird is a very unconventional animal of which to be in awe. It's like being in raptures over a squirrel. You're like, "What's the big deal? It's a squirrel. We see them everyday." We have the sense that Stevens wrote "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" to counter exactly that reaction. In our daily lives, we fall into patterns and routines that prevent us from looking at the world in fresh ways. We forget to look at the strange beauty that can be found everywhere. The subject of reclaiming the beauty of nature can be found throughout the history of poetry of all languages, but this poem is notable because it succeeds in making an utterly conventional creature seem fascinating and even weird. To a very large extent, the mind has the power to decide what counts as amazing.
Questions About Awe and Amazement
- What's so great about a blackbird, anyway? Do you think maybe Stevens just likes the name? What's the effect of repeating the word "blackbird" over and over again?
- In which sections does the blackbird seem "real," and in which does it seem like an abstract idea?
- Why don't the men of Haddam notice the blackbird, and what might their "thinness" have to do with it (Section VII)?
- Do you think "amazement" is a good way to describe the speaker's attitude? How do you reconcile his amazement with his cool (in the Miles Davis sense) voice?
Chew on This
The speaker's tone is best characterized as ironic detachment.
The true subject of the poem is the way poetic sounds and images operate. The blackbird symbolizes the prototypical poet who lacks any sense of self-consciousness.