“Whirled” – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, line 7

The action, “whirled”, which the blackbird takes in the third stanza of Wallace Steven’s, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, is pivotal to understanding the blackbird’s role and significance within the poem. The blackbird “whirled in the autumn winds” (7). Though the blackbird has wings and is able to fly against the winds, it accepts the winds and lets them take him wherever they please. In letting the winds take him, it is evident that the blackbird realizes and accepts the fact that life and existence are essentially, at their core, beyond his control. The blackbird has acknowledged the fact that “it was a small part of the pantomime” (8), or rather a just a mere, tiny speck in the whole pantomime, or “dramatic theater” of life, existence, the universe, etc. This profound understanding of life that the blackbird has is far beyond human comprehension; humans fail to grasp this idea that they are just tiny, tiny specks in the whole of existence and rather, like to consider themselves somehow superior or larger than that. The reader is able to see that this self-knowledge that the blackbird has mastered is beyond human comprehension, in the ninth stanza. “When the blackbird flew out of sight/It marked the edge/Of one of many circles” (35-37). The blackbird’s acceptance of its small place in universe “marks the edge” of the comprehension that humans have of their own existence, thus its “flying out of sight” means its flying out of a human being’s zone or circle of comprehension; the blackbird’s comprehension of existence is far beyond where humans can see – it is entirely out of sight for humans.        Additionally, the reader is able to see the fear that humans have in coming to this realization that they are just tiny specks, in stanza eleven where a man is scared when “he mistook/The shadow of the his equipage/For blackbirds” (45-47). The man is scared because as he rides along in this coach, a symbol of man’s feeling of superiority and of their belief that they are larger than they really are (perhaps to go do some seemingly important, grand task), he sees the shadow of “blackbirds”. In seeing the “blackbirds” instead of seeing the shadow of this symbol of superiority, the man is really seeing the truth of man’s small existence, over which he truly has little control, and thus the man gets scared when forced to face this truth of life. Yet, I don’t think the point of the poem is to scare us; this fact that we are all tiny specks, intertwined and connected to make up something larger than life is something beautiful – “A man and a woman and a blackbird/Are all one” (11). This poem stands to say that we as humans shouldn’t be afraid of this fact, but instead we should embrace the oneness of everything woven together to make up something much larger and greater than ourselves.

One thought on ““Whirled” – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, line 7”

  1. Bekism, you draw excellent conclusions from this poem. I personally believe the message is additionally one of humility; for as we embrace this “oneness” that you refer to, we must look certainly beyond ourselves with great exterior enthusiasm while maintaining a sense of self. If we focus too intently upon the interior, we will fail to align with others, fail to reach this sense of unity.

    The blackbird is an interesting symbolic choice; indeed, the connotations of the blackbird suggest something ominous. Could this perhaps be something as permanent and marking as death itself? We are all united through, if nothing more, our inevitable mortality; even the landscape itself will not withstand infinite years. Though certain societally hegemonic viewpoints upon the notion of the afterlife do exist, there has yet to be universal consensus upon the topic; and so in doubt and confusion we live our lives, the only certainty being that one day we too shall perish, that “this too shall pass”. The darkness of the poem, crafted by Stevens through his shadowy imagery and blunt construction, is joined by this singular morbid focus, as seen from multiple standpoints – all different, and yet all in harmony.

Leave a Reply