Study Guide

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

The complicated relationship between nature and culture is a frequent theme in Stevens's poetry. He believed that the mind imposes order on a chaotic world. But he also embraced chaos in poems like his famous "Sunday Morning," where he argues in favor of a pagan, rather than a Christian, view of nature. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" does not clearly separate wilderness from society. The poem begins in an austere, motionless landscape, before humans and the trappings of our civilization are introduced in subsequent sections. The poem circles back, and the final two sections lack evidence of people. If the poem has any message, it is that we should appreciate the small beauties all around us, and that we should ignore the boundary between nature and culture, just like the blackbird.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. The poem gives only the barest of details about its natural settings. In your head, how do you fill in the gaps?
  2. How would you characterize the relationship between humans and nature in the poem? Do humans take notice of nature or appreciate it?
  3. How does the mind's imagination affect the way we look at the external world?
  4. To what does the "pantomime" in Section III refer? What does this curious word suggest?

Chew on This

The poem seeks to abolish the artificial distinction between nature and culture by fusing elements of both in each section.

Stevens believes that humans regard nature either as a source of fear or as a source of narrow, soothing pleasure.

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