TODAY’S MUSE: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (updated)

DAILY MUSE | American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens, who remained a Hartford, CT insurance company executive during his career as a poet, had a unique manner in which he would compose. Each morning and evening, he’d walk the two miles between his home and his office. While walking, he’d compose poetry– its metre generating from the cadence of his walk.

Several years ago, I won (along with the architecture firm that I was working for at the time) a competition to design a memorial to Stevens– what would be the world’s first memorial walk to a poet. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, undoubtedly one of Stevens’ most popular and beloved poems, became the background of inspiration. The poem’s angular, modern words– cut, faceted, snapshot views of a blackbird– inspired my design. Thirteen highly polished black granite cubes were to be placed along designated spots of the two mile route where he walked. Out of each cube would be carved (subtracted) a wedged shaped (beak shaped) space/cut taken out. On each cube would be inscribed one stanza of the poem… backwards… yes, backwards… creating an optical illusion whereby one would be able to actually read the stanza forward in its reflection on the surface. It would appear as if the lines were inscribed within the block of the stone; i.e. the letters of the backwards engraved stanza would be be reflected, reversed in mirror image and optically placed within the mass of the block of stone.

I thought it was a pretty nifty design. It turned out they did too. The clients, “The Hartford Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens”, asked us to develop the design and afterward went into fund raising mode. Time moved on. Yada yada yada.

Fast forward. I no longer work for the architecture firm. As far as I know the clients are still fund raising and nothing concrete has happened (that I know of that is). I’d love to see in place. And some day it will be. It was a great honor to design it and will be again, even more so, when it is built… and others can walk the walk.

In the meantime we do have the poem itself. One that, no doubt, he wrote while on that walk. It was my muse. Now it is yours. Enjoy…

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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

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

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

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

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

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

-Wallace Stevens

35 Poems by Stevens (free ebook)

UPDATE | I just checked out the Hartford Friends & Enemies site… I guess the first 3 markers (cubes) are bing installed this spring. I hope that they kept the design as is.

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