Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Theme of Time
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
- How do verb tenses change in the poem, and do you see any order or pattern in their changes?
- What evidence do you find of the seasons in this poem? (We'll take the easy one: snow.)
- Why do you think Stevens associates the blackbird with winter?
- 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?
- Why are there exactly thirteen sections?
Chew on This
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.