“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens presents the reader with exactly what its title expresses—thirteen distinct perspectives all involving a blackbird in some form. These perspectives each provide a kind of brief snapshot into thirteen unique realities. From descriptive imagery presenting a clear visual picture to abstract implications of the blackbird as an extension of thought, we find the blackbird perhaps as the only connection between the poetic sequences. Each seems to present its own world, its own persona, its own meaning and its own picture. Yet in this separateness lies the meaning of the poem as a whole. By presenting thirteen distinct realities all involving a single object, Stevens expresses that reality depends upon perception, that one cannot fully express a unified representation of reality because a myriad of realities exist. Yet this does mean a debased sense of reality for Stevens, but rather that people should attend to the vast possibilities of perception by actively observing their environment.
[...] The power of one's environment and the advantages of active observation prove potent. In the final section I will analyze we see the repercussions inherent in avoiding one's surroundings. rode over Connecticut/ In a glass coach./ Once, a fear pierced him,/ In that he mistook/ The shadow of his equipage/ For blackbirds” (Stevens 59). The man who chooses the safety and concealment of his “glass coach” becomes privy to a piercing fear. The “glass coach” represents his limitations of perception and his avoidance of his surroundings; they hide him from the world skewing his view of what he can observe. [...]
[...] In order to perceive one must observe what surrounds him and in the act of perception, one creates reality instead of fantasy. Nina Baym refers to this concept of perception as “authenticating both the beauty of reality and the dependence of that beauty—indeed the dependence of reality itself—on the human observer” (1440). Indeed, these “thin deny the reality by refusing to observe and to perceive. If they abandoned their fantasies, perhaps they could observe the beauty of their immediate surroundings. [...]
[...] As we see the blackbird disappearing in the distance, one can imagine the vastness of a circle spanning from horizon to horizon. This space entails the actual distance the speaker can view before the horizon cuts off his view and therefore limits the environment he can perceive. While this area spans a relatively gigantic field of perception, it marks the edge of only of many circles” revealing the incredible number of perceptions which exist and which also can shift or move depending on the perceiver. [...]
[...] The reality of the poem to McNamara contrasts the reality of the poem to me. This contrast in interpretations reveals the other message in Stevens' poem that reality depends upon perception—no single reality exists. Directly after the first stanza, Stevens' illustrates an obvious break in the role of the blackbird and the reality presented to the reader. Here we see the repeated pattern of the poem beginning unravel—the consistency in the inconsistency and disconnectedness of the poem. was of three minds, / like a tree/ in which there are three blackbirds” (Stevens 58). [...]
[...] These entities exist physically separate from another but constitute parts of whole in that they one.” This relationship mirrors the message of Stevens' poem; the oneness here parallels the notion of a whole reality supposedly existing but only the act of perceiving actually defining reality. The existence of an infinite multitude of perceptions constitutes the realities as separate but part of the same whole—even if accurately representing that whole remains impossible. Nietzsche encapsulated this concept when he said, world] has not one sense behind but hundreds of senses” (qtd from Leggett 24). [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee