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Wallace Stevens/Michael Spafford – 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

When the visual engages the verbal, the former is frequently an illustration of the latter. Michael Spafford’s homages to Wallace Stevens’ poem are a rare choice, not the usual echo. They are a duet with Stevens, a point/counterpoint.

Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird first published, 1917.
Spafford’s woodcuts of the same title, 17.5 by 23 inches, from 1975, with a second entirely different set a decade later. Images via Francine Seders Gallery.

That’s why for each stanza there are two images, the first from 1975, the second from 1986. (Click to enlarge.)

1.
Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the eye of the blackbird.

Michael Spaffordbird1.jpg
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2.
I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.

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3.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.

It was a small part of the pantomime.

spaffordbird3.jpg
spaffordb3.jpg4.
A man and a woman

Are one.

A man and a woman and a blackbird

Are one.

spaffordbird4.jpg
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5.
I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

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6.
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.

spaffordbird6.jpg
spaffordb6.jpg7.
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?

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8.
I know noble accents

And lucid, inescapable rhythms;

But I know, too,

That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

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9.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,

It marked the edge

Of one of many circles.

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10.
At the sight of blackbirds

Flying in a green light,

Even the bawds of euphony

Would cry out sharply.

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11.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For blackbirds.

spaffordbird11.jpg
spaffordb11bird.jpg
12.
The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying.

spaffordbird12.jpg
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13.
It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow.

The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

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spaffordb13.jpg

Comments

  1. At evening, the blackbird is silent.
    His shadow is on the field’s shadow.
    Two shadows intone
    A harmony of spectrum solitude.

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