American Poetry
for Students of English Worldwide

..............Jack Kimball.............

Look Out!
Points of View with WALLACE STEVENS

One of the reasons we read poetry is to learn fresh ways of experiencing the world and expressing it. Inevitably we confront new vocabulary as well. For example, how many of these words are new to you?

pantomime: silent acting
converge: to come together or meet; to intersect
beams: light rays
cedar: evergreen tree
inflection: change in voice
limb: branch
innuendo: an indirect expression, a suggestion, a hint
lucid: clear
valley: lowland
inescapable: unavoidable

Wallace Stevens creates poetry which asks us to look carefully at the world. People, things and ideas change, of course, when we shift our viewpoint. Look at friend, then move to the left and a few feet forward or backward. What changes? Imagine all the changes you and your friend will go through an hour from now, a year from now, and so on. Point: when we consider how easily everything changes, we are thinking more completely. The following verses demonstrate this.

Valley Candle

My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
The beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

From: 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.

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.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be going.

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

From reading these poems, write words that mean the SAME as the following words used by Wallace Stevens:

1) out of sight _______
2) inflections _______
3) prefer _______
4) whirled in autumn _______
5) cedar limbs _______
6) involved _______
7) until _______
8) lucid _______
9) edge _______
10) evening _______

Decide if the following statements are TRUE or FALSE.

1) "Noble" means "lowly."
2) "Innuendoes" means "hints."
3) "Inflections" means "tone differences."
4) "Pantomime" is noisy.
5) "Prefer" means "not to like."
6) "Spun" is another word for "whirled."
7) "Accent" is a variation in sound.
8) "Inescapable" means "avoidable."
9) "To split up" is another way of saying "to converge."
10) "Huge" and "immense" mean the same.
11) A picture in the mind is an "image."
12) "Ridge" is another word for "edge."

In the poem Valley Candle, there is a shift in view. What difference is there between the first time the wind blew and the second?

What causes the "beams"? And what are the effects of the "beams"?

Can you express "huge night" in other words?

In reviewing the short verses from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, find the verse that describes the sound effects of the blackbird.

Does the writer view blackbirds in different ways?

What words prove this?

What feelings are in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird?

The blackbird "whirled." The blackbird flies in circles. It is "whistling." Find other images that describe the blackbirds' actions.

Using words from the poems if you like, explain why the speaker states: "A man and a woman are one" and "I was of three minds."

Here are some responses other students have made to Wallace Stevens' poems. Notice how each presents various points of view.

Four Ways of Looking at Scissors (by Valerie Goodall)

When I look at scissors I see people dancing.
When I look at scissors I can see a piece of
paper being cut.
When I look at a broken branch, I can see a

Untitled (by Richard Ulloa)

I see Jose as a romantic singer.
I see Jose as a wild girl-chaser.
He doesn't only chase girls, but faints for

The Four Thinker Ring (by Lynne Reiff)

1. My ring makes me think of Valentine's Day.
2. I had this ring for a long time.
3. When I wear it, it makes me think of my
heart, because it's shaped like a heart.
4. My ring makes me think of a day in the
winter when it's snowing very hard and
people are happy.

Re-read the verses from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and Valley Candle. Write a poem (or a few!) about anything you look at from different viewpoints, different angles. For example, think about something at night and during the day. Let it move and make noise. Then let it be quiet. Change the seasons. Like it and dislike it. Hide it in some bushes. Throw it high in the air.

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