This was the first I’ve read of Stevens, and I have to admit that I’m somewhat baffled by “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” The themes that I associate with it now are tied directly with “Study of Two Pears,” in that I feel that the individual’s ideas of reality and perception play a significant role. As a Modernist poet, I understand his idea that a poem should stand for itself rather than the author’s intent to convey a message, yet I had a difficult time understanding it’s significance.
In “Study of Two Pears,” I could clearly see the conflict between reality and perception of reality through his descriptions of the pear, particularly in stanza V, in which he describes the yellow color as made up of many others. This stanza in particular reminded me of a fascinating self-portrait from an artist whose name escapes me but that I spent many hours looking at when I worked as a security guard at the GMOA years ago. I recall so much about the portrait, a gray-haired artist with pale skin against a blue field, yet, when you approached the painting there was no gray in his hair, but rather a spattering of the rainbow that when seen from a distance appeared gray. It was amazing to see blues, yellows, greens – all the colors of the rainbow – ultimately creating gray. The best part of that painting, though, was that the frame – handmade by the artist from some old artifact – was more valuable than the painting itself. For me it encapsulated the conflict between reality and perception of this poem.
When I returned again to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” my mind was in a different place, and I hoped that would allow my perception of the poem to expand into more, yet I still feel lost when reading it. Perhaps that is the poem’s intent, for in the opening stanzas, I can see the conflict and resolution between the singular, the trinity, and the joined unity. Perhaps it is the mind “whirled in the autumn winds,” but is that a lie, an act, a “pantomime?” Do I prefer the message to be direct or implied? Again, my mind swings “to and fro” in questioning the question. What are the golden birds, a false promise that frees the individual of thought? Could this be the church, the trinity mentioned earlier, as a means of escaping thinking for one’s self? Or is it physical beauty that they seek when only the beauty of the mind is significant? How much of my persona is driven by the questions I have about the questions I have about the questions I have? When I’ve been just out of my head and crazy as can be (as we’ve all been – okay, maybe not you), how close to the edge of my reality did I get? When I realize something new and my perception of past things changes, how does my mind cope? Okay, I just really don’t get the next stanza at all (I’ve actually written this about six times and deleted it every time, but this time, I really don’t get it). Thought is always moving, the mind is always aloft, pondering the reality around it. Finally: conflict…and dissonance… and the reality of the mind.
In closing, after reading back what I’ve just written, how much of this poem is driven by Freud’s theories, popular at the time? So much of this now seems to reflect the conflict between the ego, id, and superego within one mind – the trinity united. I really enjoyed reading these poems and look forward to discussing them with the class, but I really have no foundation yet to comprehend them at the level they deserve.