THIRTEEN WAYS ANALYSIS

Topics: Modernism, Modernist literature, Modernist poetry Pages: 8 (3439 words) Published: November 16, 2014
The blackbird is the only element in nature which is aesthetically compatible with bleak light and bare limbs: he is, we may say, a certain kind of language, opposed to euphony, to those "noble accents and lucid inescapable rhythms" which Stevens used so memorably elsewhere in Harmonium. … There are thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird because thirteen is the eccentric number; Stevens is almost medieval in his relish for external form. This poetry will be one of inflection and innuendo; the inflections are the heard melodies (the whistling of the blackbird) and the innuendoes are what is left out (the silence just after the whistling) … … The blackbird has perhaps something in common with Eliot’s "shadow" that falls between potency and act, desire and consummation [in "The Hollow Men"]. But Stevens would deny that it is remediable or accidental intrusion between two things that without it would be better off. It is, rather, of one substance with the things it relates: I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after. (iv)
Between the man and the woman is the blackbird, one with them; between the man’s mood and his environment is the blackbird, the indecipherable cause of the mood which is man’s response to nature (stanza vi); between the man of Haddam and their imagined golden birds is the blackbird, the real on which they construct their "artifice of eternity" (vii); between the haunted man and his protective glass coach is the terror of the blackbird (xi); it lies at the base of even our powerful verbal defenses, those beautiful glass coaches of euphony and lucidity/ It is, finally, the principle of our final relation to the universe, our compulsions, first of all, The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying. (xii)
and, lastly, our despair at death:
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs. (xiii)
But neurosis and death are only instances of a pervasive relational eccentricity. Our extent in space (as well as in time) goes only as far as the blackbird goes – the blackbird is our "line of vision" (ix), as it is our line of thought: when we are of two minds (or, as Stevens presses it, "of three minds"), it is not as if we had a blackbird, an oriole, and a pigeon in view, but only "a tree / In which there are three blackbirds" (ii). The blackbird is by no means all – it is surrounded by the vastness of twenty mountains, the autumn winds, the snow – but though only a small part, it is the determining focus of relation. Sections I and XIII embrace a sequence of great diversity and even dispersal, unified, it might seem, only by the presence of a referential blackbird (or blackbirds) in each section. Each of the thirteen sections demonstrates a fragmentary instantaneousness that relates it to Imagist poetry of the period and may distract us from the fact that the framework itself creates a very strong sense of location or setting; that is, it posits a spatial context and indicates the extent of this context for the sequence it embraces. I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
XII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
The closing section XIII reiterates the sense created in section I of a solid geographical or "natural" landscape. Through the Stevensian technique of prepositional foregrounding, Stevens attaches the very grammatical subjects of his sentences to the material stuff of signifiers like "Among . . . snowy mountains" and "In the cedar-limbs." The referentiality of the setting might be thought of as preexisting since there is a pretense of artlessness coupled with inertness, as though nature's handy perches were simply ordinary givens. They offer themselves as the place for "the only moving thing" to begin a series of movements...
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