Study Guide

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Time

By Wallace Stevens


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. (Section III)

This is the only point in the poem that we're sure what season it is. But we think it's reasonable to argue that when Stevens uses the word "snowy," he knows that it signals winter. The poem seems to move backward into autumn.

The blackbird whistling
Or just after. (Section VI)

The innuendo of the blackbird's whistling depends on catching the moment "just" after the sound dies away, when the impression of the sound remains fresh in the listener's mind. Otherwise, you're just hearing complete silence.

Would cry out sharply. (Section X)

Stevens uses the conditional tense: if this happens, then this "would" happen. If they saw blackbirds in green light, they "would cry out sharply." It's a small detail, but this tense suddenly shifts the poem into the future and the realm of possibility.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying. (Section XII)

If you wanted to argue that the poem has some kind of forward-moving narrative, here's a place to look. A-ha. He uses the present tense after using the past tense for most of the poem. Maybe the poem is set in the springtime, but the speaker spends most of it reflecting on the winter that has passed. The snow has melted and the river is finally starting to move again.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow. (Section XIII)

The final section moves back into the past again, but with a nod to the future ("it was going to snow"). To say "It was evening all afternoon" is to put the cart before the horse, chronologically speaking. It's kind of like saying, "It was tomorrow all of today." There are no clear boundaries between time periods in this poem.