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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


by Wallace Stevens

Section X Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Section X

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

  • This passage sounds beautiful, but its meaning is so unclear! That's poetry for you. But we can help.
  • The speaker says that even people who enjoy cheap pleasures can feel intense emotion at the sight of "blackbirds flying in a green light."
  • A "bawd" is a female pimp, someone who arranges for someone else to buy pleasure. And "euphony" is a nice, pleasing sound, but Stevens uses it ironically to mean a saccharine or schmaltzy sound (source). So, a "bawd of euphony" is a very obscure name for someone who reduces a complex beauty to a cheap pleasure. If it helps, the opposite of euphony is "cacophony," or random noise.
  • The blackbird in the green light is a complex pleasure. We don't know why the light is green, but maybe the bird is flying underneath a sunny, green tree. The contrast between green light and a black bird does not produce a soothing euphony. So, in theory, the bawds of euphony should be like, "Nope, not interested."
  • But instead, those pesky bawds "cry out sharply" as if from pleasure, pain, or both. They don't know how to process this amazing new sight.

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