Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) is one of my favourite poets. I first came across his poetry over 40 years ago when I heard the Professor of English at University College, Dublin, Denis Donoghue, intoning “Sunday Morning” in a lecture hall. I was entranced. I went out and bought the Faber “Selected Poems.” Later I managed to track down a more substantial selection, “The Palm at the End of the Mind”, edited by his daughter, Holly Stevens. I also bought the essays collected as “The Necessary Angel”. These poems and essays continue to entrance. I have returned to them frequently over the years. (There is also the story of my failed effort to find the grave of Wallace Stevens in Hartford, when I went with a friend of mine, Jack Lyons of the Irish Transcendental Meditation Centre, in the 1970’s. But that is for another day and for chieffallingleaf.)
Although he has written “Adagia”, a series of aphorisms in prose, his poetry is at its best when it is at its most extensive and expansive. One of his most celebrated poems, however, is like a series of haiku. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” may, in some of its sections, exceed the limitations of a tweet. But I include it in full because there is an exception to every rule and because I like it.
I also include a very brief poem, “To the Roaring Wind”, which Stevens placed at the end of his first collection, “Harmonium”. The seeking and speaking of syllables by this great “Vocalissimus” of twentieth century poetry has led to some of the finest poems ever written. Enough said.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
To the Roaring Wind
Some of the Adagia from Opus Postumous.
A Wikipedia page on the poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”.
A critical analysis of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by four commentators on the Modern American Poetry site.
A reading of the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Tom O’Bedlam.
Denis Donoghue on metaphor in Wallace Stevens.