Thirteen Reasons Why - Essay Samples

There is, as Coyle suggests, a sense of finality in these stanzas, but there is alsothe sense that each is only "For a moment final, in the way / The thinking of artseems final when / The thinking of god is smoky dew" (CP, 168). This passage from also draws the connection I have been pressing between theabsence of being (or the postulation of becoming) and the adoption of perspectivism. Itdefines almost exactly the paradoxical effect--a finality that proclaims simultaneouslythe impossibility of finality--that aphorism imparts to 'Thirteen Ways."

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Indeed, as a synecdoche for the activity of the viewer and a metaphor for the work of apoet, that roving, moving "eye" signifies the initial impulse for the movementneeded to find "thirteen ways of looking." The blackbird's eye represents theshifting, animated, spirited world of creatures in the midst of the frozen world ofgeology. It also forms part of a delicately traced visual image that we might imagine ascontrasting the dark glint of the blackbird's eye with the supposed whiteness of themountains, a tiny eye point with a vast expanse, and lively and attentive movement(fictive and anatomically impossible though it is) with frigid immobility. Considering theblackbird's potential symbolic import as a bird of ill omen, this function of glinting,shifting, living, moving must relativize any simple contrast between its blackness and thewhite background. The eye of the blackbird must embrace a range of symbolic meaningsacross a spectrum from the benign to the malign, like Melville's whale. Although ominousin its blackness, it is also promising for its ability to escape all but the determinismof movement itself. We have seen in "The Motive for Metaphor" how a demiurgicalchain of unexpected transformations can be set off by "Desiring the exhilarations ofchanges." For besides leading back to the quasi-ontological eye of the blackbird, the"moving thing" also implicates the emotions of the looker who is moved. The eyeof the "I" implicitly scans the frozen landscape to pick out the one object thatmoves or that moves him--that is, the only object that signifies: blackbirds. The"I"'s desire determines the terms in which the fiction of the poem can beconstituted.

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Stevens' image disperses the unifying mystical force of Saint Augustine's God whosecenter was everywhere and circumference nowhere. Stevens' circles are akin to the materialillustrations with which Emerson opens his essay, "Circles"; "The eye isthe first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second." The circle is indeedthat through which we see and the limit of what we see. But whereas Emerson goes on to saythat "throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end," Stevens,rather than looking for a First Idea here, affirms an undifferentiated plurality thatstrips his circles of the Ideal that Emerson calls in this essay "the highest emblemin the cipher of the world." The linguistic circles Stevens inscribes in this poemare not all variants of the same but all differently shaped spaces of looking as well asof speculating. The role of locative constructions, of which the word is asemantically full sign, is to establish the linguistic architecture of 'ThirteenWays"--a confined space of verbal looking or speculation. What is beyond the circleis not seen; its edge erects a boundary for the thought of the poet.

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In his Stevens said of the blackbird sequence, "This group of poemsis not meant to be a collection of epigrams or of ideas, but of sensations." In whatsenses? Among the Russian formalists, a theorist named Viktor Zhirmunski published a studyof rhyme in 1923 when Stevens's first book, appeared beside Williams's Donald Wesling recounts in specifically focusingon off-rhyme and what his Russian colleagues called "making it strange." Thedevice of inexact rhyme calls self-reflexive attention to a literary text andlanguage-as-medium, Zhirmunski said, through a sequencing effect: defamiliarizing a readerentering the text, defacilitating the interpreter with verbal intricacy, and retarding thecritic's progress digressively. The effect is to slow down time, heighten awareness, andopen radical interpretive possibilities, where assumption blocks intuition, or arroganceshuts down understanding. Similarly, in Sigurd Burkhardtwrites of Shakespeare driving a verbal wedge between sound and meaning, in order to freehis language from expectation and cliche. Aswith off-rhyme, so with slantimages—beyond critical paraphrase, slightly gnomic—they throw the poem into whatYeats called "radical innocence," positions of witness and testament, lessinterpretation, the bear's heart all the more singing A poem must be,Auden noted, more than anyone can say about it. Just so with the blackbird sequence, apoem of optics and phonics, among other things, shattering reality into irregular facetsof a mysterious jewel that reflects spectral colors, iridescent light from a blackdiamond. At least thirteen ways into this, each angle of refraction redefines theblackbird, as each moment shifts the image.

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Sections I and XIII embrace a sequence of great diversity and even dispersal, unified,it might seem, only by the presence of a referential blackbird (or blackbirds) in eachsection. Each of the thirteen sections demonstrates a fragmentary instantaneousness thatrelates it to Imagist poetry of the period and may distract us from the fact that theframework itself creates a very strong sense of location or setting; that is, it posits aspatial context and indicates the extent of this context for the sequence it embraces.

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Neither style nor convention (stanza or line lengths, rhythm, etc.) nor"theme" pulls these passages together into anything approaching sustained andcoherent thought or feeling, although the stanzas have been made to form something closerto a traditionally structured poem by countless New Critical analyses operating under theassumption that a central poem by a major poet must have a formal coherence. Speaking of apoem that presents the same formal problems, "Like Decorations in a NiggerCemetery," Helen Vendler argues that "if we believe in Stevens' good faith wemust assume he thought it a viable whole" (66), and a generation of readers soughtfor ways to save Stevens from the charge of bad faith. Thus M. L. Rosenthal writes of"Thirteen Ways" that its stanzas "are woven together along two main strandsof thought." One of these is "the blackbird as a symbol of the inseparability oflife and death in nature," and the other, more vaguely defined, is "the poet'sattitude toward his symbol" (128). The possibility that the form of the poem itselfimplies the of an overarching unity in which each look at the blackbirdfinds its place would have been a difficulty for several decades of Stevens criticism.