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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


by Wallace Stevens

Section XI Summary

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

Section XI

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

  • An unknown male character travels through Stevens's home state of Connecticut in a glass "coach." A coach is a kind of carriage drawn by horses.
  • The man becomes afraid when he sees the shadow of his coach ("equipage") and thinks that he saw blackbirds.
  • We all know the feeling of being scared by a shadow, but why is this guy afraid of blackbirds?
  • The coach could have glass windows, or the entire thing could be made of glass, in which case it would be a fantasy. The word "glass" reminds us of the icicles from Section VI, and the word "pierced" reinforces the idea of sharpness.
  • Stevens lived in a time when automobiles were already becoming commonplace, so the mention of coaches and equipages is deliberately old-fashioned. You might think of nineteenth-century Gothic novels where people ride through dark forests in carriages in nighttime and hope they don't get abducted by murderers.
  • This is the first section to use the blackbirds as an object of fear, but we get the feeling that the poem might be mocking the man in the carriage.

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