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Themes

Time moves forward, backward, and in a circle in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." It is set mostly in autumn and winter, and begins and ends on the image of a snowy landscape. As for the other sections, the unconventional form of the poem prevents the formation of any kind of linear narrative. A narrative, at the most basic level, is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. This poem obviously lacks such a story. What we get instead are snapshots or flashes of inspiration. The past and present verb tenses mix together with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Questions About Time

  1. How do verb tenses change in the poem, and do you see any order or pattern in their changes?
  2. What evidence do you find of the seasons in this poem? (We'll take the easy one: snow.)
  3. Why do you think Stevens associates the blackbird with winter?
  4. How does the poem's form affect the way we perceive time and narrative within it? Do you think the poem ends in the same place it starts?
  5. Why are there exactly thirteen sections?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poem moves in a circle, expressing the unity of past, present, and future.

The poem moves in a spiral or gyre, and the perpetual motion of the snowfall at the end marks a narrative advance over the total stillness of the beginning.

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