Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

When Carrie Kirby and I were in our early discussions of repertoire for our concert, I immediately asked her to look at my setting of Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird. I wrote the music almost 10 years ago, but I've never been able to convince anyone that it was worthy of performance. In fact, several people suggested exactly otherwise. I remained convinced of the music. To my great delight, several people came up to me after the concert to tell me that it was their favorite piece of the evening. That's a great lesson for a composer. Given the limitations of my technical ability, it became necessary for me to split this into 13 parts. It was performed as one piece.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Wallace Stevens

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

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

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III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.


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


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V
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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VI
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.



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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?


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VIII
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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IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


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X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


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XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.


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XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.



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XIII
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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