Blog: The Bawds of Euphony (06/03/22)


Poetry is an escape from personality. Those who understand it realize that it is basically a lie that tells the truth.

Even if the poetry has a meaning, which it sometimes does, it may not be wise to bring it out – understanding it can destroy the fun.

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” Carl Sandberg

Many moons ago, the same year the Beatles released their first single and John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, I was a student at the University of Minnesota, majoring in math .

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

During my first year English class, a required class, the instructor gave us the assignment to write an article about the meaning of a poem called “Thirteen Ways to Look at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens.

No big deal, I thought — only 13 stanzas containing 246 words.


Among twenty snow-capped mountains,

The only thing that moves

Was the black bird’s eye.


I was of three spirits,

like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird swirled 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 don’t know which one to prefer

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of undertones,

The whistling blackbird

Or right after.


Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass.

blackbird’s shadow

Crossed it, back and forth.


Traced in the shadows

An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,

Why do you imagine golden birds?

Don’t you see how the blackbird

walk around the feet

Women around you?


I know the noble accents

And lucid, unavoidable rhythms;

But I also know

That the blackbird is involved

In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,

He marked the edge

From one of the many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds

Fly in a green light,

Even the pimps of euphony

Would scream loudly.


He crossed Connecticut

In a glass car.

Once a fear pierced him,

In this he was mistaken

The shadow of his crew

For blackbirds.


The river is moving.

The black bird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.

It was snowing

And it was going to snow.

The blackbird sat down

In the cedar branches.

Well, that turned out to be a big deal.

After reading it 13 times I still came to the same conclusion – a clown jotted down a series of random thoughts, as if scribbling with words, and it had no obvious meaning other than it probably had to do with anything other than blackbirds.

Or maybe it had a deeper meaning after all, like understanding how people think and what it means when someone finally understands it (life).

The poem begins with the perception of the blackbird from an observer’s perspective, followed by the intellectual process of observing, followed by the intellectual process of the blackbird itself and what it must be like to be a blackbird.

In the process, “a man and a woman and a blackbird are one” – just as “all are one” in the scheme of the universe and beyond.

Also, it has something to do with commonality, basic human ego, and that our identities as basic humans are spiritual enough.

The black bird is a common bird, but its very existence in this poem seems to be linked to natural processes, as if the act of observation on the part of our ego is the act of holding creation together.

The conclusion seems to deal with the shortcomings of our egocentric lives, so it has been structured to reflect the human thought process.

Or perhaps the interpretation of this string of nonsense would evoke a different meaning depending on the fertility, or lack thereof, of the reader’s mind.

Seemingly endless possibilities – the blackbird represents the changing seasons or the human thought process or the subconscious mind or God or life or death or the beauty of innuendo behind barbaric glass.

And in the worst case, maybe the blackbird was just a blackbird.

It was like trying to explain the meaning of an abstract painting of a small red circle in a large random splatter of black paint, when in fact the artist simply splattered black paint onto a canvas and inserted a red circle for no particular reason other than it was the right thing to do at the time.

Anyway, I wrote gibberish about the poem about the passing of life.

Since I really had no idea, I bluffed a lot and compared it to the cycle of a complete human life, marking the edge of a circle.

In the end, I got a “C” in this class, no doubt well-deserved for my ability to portray knowledge without actually reaching it.

Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) was an insurance company lawyer who probably spent a lot of free time at his desk jotting down random thoughts, which later became poems.

“A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.” wallace stevens

Stevens won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955.

Sometimes the doodles of one person’s mind become the meaning of another person’s life. Ultimately, a poem designates nothing other than itself.

If I ever start a rock band, it will be called The Bawds of Euphony.


Quote of the day – “Blackbird singing in the dead of night… Take these broken wings and learn to fly… All your life you’ve been waiting for this moment to rise.”

(song lyrics by Paul McCartney and John Lennon)


Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where blackbirds often hover above the tree line.



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