the mind of the poet in 13 ways of looking at a blackbird

An answer to a question by Sean Marie Prythyll A. Patnubay | May 20, 2022

I can’t say that Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird has neither led me out of confusion nor comforted me because in some ways, it has. I am less confused when it comes to understanding the differences in our actions because the poet has emphasized the importance of differences in perspective. I am comforted that when I am faced with problems, there will always be more than one solution as people have different perspectives and by extension, can offer more solutions. Therefore, I could argue that Wallace Stevens has gone over and beyond the functions of the poet in presenting thirteen variations of the blackbird. In terms of the poet’s function of making his imagination ours, true to his letter to Payne Jr., this has been a poem of sensations — of the different ones that are associated with a blackbird. These are sensations that I have personally felt while reading… sensations of fear, of wonder, and even a little confusion about blackbirds in its most natural state as depicted in the thirteen sections of the poem or should I say string of thirteen flash poems in one sitting.

Stevens posits in Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and Imagination that the poet should fulfill himself if and only if his imagination becomes the light in the mind of others. Moments in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird best illustrate this point when the poem questions the need to imagine golden birds when we have in our midst the blackbird.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

Why do we always think that the grass is greener elsewhere? This brings me local diasporic culture where Manila is the America of the Philippines. As we pose this same question, why do you imagine golden birds, why do we imagine that the grass is greener in Manila when we know that it is a concrete jungle there? In imagination, we fail to appreciate the beauty that we can behold if we only looked around. This one question has become the light in my mind as Stevens’ imagination makes me question why my crushes could never reciprocate my admiration. It might be because they were imagining golden birds that they failed to notice the humble blackbird in me.

Speaking of blackbirds in me, I felt seen in the personification of a blackbird whose patterns of flight and swings of mood are crossed to and fro that are oft-indecipherable in this textual evidence.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

Stevens’ imagination has shed light on the numerous times I could not name the root cause of my mood. What has triggered my morose self today? Why have the icicles by the long window grown longer, colder still? Using Stevens’ words, I begin to imagine myself using the many perspectives, the many truths he presented using the blackbird. The bird he mentioned might have been black but the light in my mind has been disturbingly bright as I am forced to imagine the blackbird, me in my natural state upon the poem’s first stanza and in many other states because the poem does not show us one big overarching state of this bird. Like the blackbird, we are free to fly across the many different imaginations and choose which one would bring us the most light in the many different circumstances we find ourselves in and should we find comfort in its warmth, then Stevens has performed more than the functions of the poet necessitate.

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