Study Guide

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Versions of Reality

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Versions of Reality

When you title your poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at [Something]," you're describing versions of reality pretty much by definition. Indeed, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is not so much about a blackbird as it is about the different short takes that Stevens presents on the blackbird. It invites you to look at the world in highly specific, imaginative ways, like the circles of which the blackbird marks the edge. The imagination is the real star of the poem, and it has a way of creating its own reality. The number thirteen is completely arbitrary – Stevens seems to say that there are infinite versions of the blackbird rather than one, "true" blackbird.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. How do the thirteen views of the blackbird fit together? Do they produce a coherent or unified perspective?
  2. Which section did you find most difficult to understand, and why? What does it mean to "understand" a poem like this?
  3. Based only on whatever you know, how do you think the perspective of this poem might be influenced by Asian art? Do you think our describing "Asian art" as one thing is like saying there can be only one way to look at the blackbird?
  4. Are any of the ways of looking at the blackbird negatively?

Chew on This

The number "thirteen" is used because it is one more than the number of hours on a standard clock.

The poem's thirteen sections are deliberately fragmentary and incomplete.

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