Friday, 6 January 2017

My Lucky 13 and Wallace Stevens

In Austria they counting the birds. 

Volunteers are sent an instruction package and are expected to devote three hours; an hour a day over three consecutive days.

Elderly spinsters and widows and outnumbered old men will hide behind net curtains and patiently peer in the direction of bird feeders and nesting boxes, and hardier souls, some with parties of enthusiastic children, wrapped up against the bitter weather (it's -20C in mountain valleys today - but here it's a relatively mild -7C) will march into parks and fields suitably armed with notebooks and pencils, binoculars and perhaps a little appropriate sustenance. 

The annual bird counting exercise reminds me of a wonderful poem called 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. It's by Wallace Stevens 

We can look at four parts of the poem: the first, the second, the fourth, and the seventh.

Here they are: 

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

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

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

VII - 
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? 

The reason for choosing the above verses lies in the intricacies of the bird counting system. My chosen example of how to count birds involves blackbirds. 

Here it is:
Let's say you take up your position in the park and you see two blackbirds in a tree. You make a note of the time and date. The next day there are four blackbirds. You also record this event. On the third day there is one blackbird. You make a note of it. Now you calculate how many blackbirds you have seen. The total number of blackbirds you have seen is four blackbirds. It is not seven. Seven would be too many. 

Now you can work out why I selected the above stanzas. And don't forget - the result is IV. 

In my picture (below) I have drawn 13 birds, none of them black. And they all count. They are the Lucky 13. 

The uncaged blackbird is many people's best-loved songbird. Mine too. 

Have a good day! And be kind to yourselves. 

You can discover more about Wallace Stevens and his poetry HERE at the Poem Hunter website. 

There are several posts on Wallace Stevens at my Poet-in-Residence blog. These are available to be viewed simply by entering the term Wallace Stevens in the P-i-R search box. At the outset it has to be said: Stevens is not easy poet. I offer the posts titled "Wallace Stevens meets R S Thomas (parts 1,2, and 3)" as your starting point.

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