Heartless?

stevensWallace Stevens is hard to miss in the landscape of contemporary American poets. He’s famous for his intricate, fanciful poems, as well as for the fact that he worked throughout his career as an insurance executive. He can seem dry and intellectual–difficult–but worth the trouble to unravel.

Two things about Stevens–apparently the other execs at Hartford Accident and Indemnity didn’t think too much of him. His boss was quoted in a recent bio: “Unless they told me he had a heart attack I never would have known he had a heart.” Berryman was kinder:

…something…something…not there in his
flourishing art…
What was it missing, then, at the man’s heart
so that he does not wound?

Despite all this, he remains one of the giants of twentieth century letters, and here is your Stevens’ poem for today, maybe you already know it:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

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.

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?

VIII

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Wallace Stevens, from Harmonium

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