Each of the stanzas above may of course be interpreted in a conventional manner. StanzaV, for example, opposes two kinds of beauty, one distinct and the other suggestive, thatthe blackbird's whistling is made to illustrate, and Stanza VI observes the way an objectlike a blackbird is defined by (and in turn defines) its surrounding. What isunconventional here is that the poem does not allow us readily to apply what we have seenor understood in one stanza to our reading of the next, since the linguistic function ofthe one "constant" in the poem, the blackbird, keeps shifting. It may be a partof a poetic figure in one stanza, a more or less literal reference in the next. The"meaning" of Stanza V thus has only a negligible bearing on a reading of StanzaVI; its "truth" is confined to the moment in which it is sensed or read. Onlythrough such a form could the poem demonstrate its assumptions (in Robert Rehder's words)"that each act of vision re-creates reality and that every perception is ametaphor" (59). Without pursuing a Nietzschean interpretation, Rehder neverthelessarrives at. the same point, which recognizes the two fundamental assumptions"Thirteen Ways" is built on--each sense of the world is a new seeing, confinedto its own unique perspective, and each has its origin in the perceiver (i.e., is ametaphor). The poem illustrates Nietzsche's view that the world "has not one sensebehind it, but hundreds of senses"' (WP, II, 13), or, to state it in the visualfigure of "Thirteen Ways," "There are many kinds of eyes. . . . thereforethere must be many kinds of 'truths,' and consequently there can be no truth" (WP,II, 50). The contradiction that Nietzsche's statement entails--the assertion that therecan be no truth offered as what appears to be the truth--is, we may note, appropriatelymitigated by the fact that it occurs in a series of aphorisms, which tends both tohighlight it--to emphasize its exaggerated profundity--and to neutralize it, to render it"just one more truth, one more / Element in the immense disorder of truths" (CP,216).
The fifth stanza questions which tonal cadence most makes way for beauty, in--tionor in-nu--do, "The blackbird whistling / Orjust after." Is itaccent, or afterthought, that suspends sensethe word spoken, or the reflectivesilence that follows? The plot is in the pause. Just so, shadow to caesura, the longersixth section shows the triple remove of the blackbird's shadow, crossing icicles of"baric glass" outside a "long window." Here"barbaric" (from the Greek, for foreigners who stutter likesheep) modifies the scintillant dactyl, "icles," and we sense how manyoptic removes the eye, a fluid sphere refracting light in a black pupil, must to catch a fleeting glimpse, a dark image of a darker flying object. literally Old English "ice of snow," traces back through Frost's meltingverse on a stove to the snow man's wintry Otherness, the "nothing that is" outthere. The blackbird's shadow darts back and forth outside civilization's glassed house(again the empty jar's echo). The radicals of remove prove multiple, metrically tracing"in the /An indepherable ,"asPlath says pointillistically of the retreating horseman in "Words," those"indeigable taps." andcome together as the first true rhymes of the poem: an echoing sense thatwe've reached an inner corridor, a winged truth.
On the level of the signified, but on this level only, section V seems to propose anontologically "full" choice between "The beauty of inflections / Or thebeauty of innuendoes," that is, for example between the modulations of voice(parallel to the "whistling" of the blackbird) and the meaningful suggestionsthat come to the mind with a slight delay (parallel to "just after"). On thelevel of the metaphors, there is an impossible choice between poetry itself and itsresonance in the mind. This relatively simple metaphor becomes a complex place of poeticrather than ontological speculation when we consider the playful use of etymology in"inflections" and "innuendoes." We recognize that the word"inflections" illustrates the principles of English word building, like the useof different prefixes already present in Latin () and theAnglicization of the marks of different parts of speech, such as the common substantivesuffix here, or such forms as , , .It thus belongs to a large family of regularized and domesticated English words derivedfrom the Latin root, , now considerably impoverished in terms of itsmorphology--that is, its inflections. The hidden genealogy of the word"innuendoes" is quite different. Despite sharing with "inflections"the prefix meaning "in or toward, "innuendo" derives from theablative case of the Latin gerund and is thus less a fixed thing and more a function ormeans. Appropriated as an English noun, its unusual - form nonethelessseparates it from the static abstractness of - and relates it to musicalterminology like "crescendo" and "diminuendo." It suggests not only byits etymology ( = "to nod") but also by its form a process orunfurling. It brings with it the functional or relational aspect of ="to nod, to signify." Contrasted with the unbending bendingness of the word"inflections," the word "innuendoes" moves toward another gerund,another holder for that moving suffix - but a Germanic one this time:"whistling." The blackbird's inflections increase in sensuousness through thisencounter between Latin and Old English. Interaction between the Latin and Anglo-Saxonroots of modern English can also be found in the spurious parallel between"prefer" and "after," words that dimly mime each other in look andsound but are in fact constructed along entirely different principles. "Prefer"and "after," verb and adverb, delimit a temporal location within which thesection unfurls and moves forward. What should come first is undecidable, as is what canhappen in the "after" after the section's end. Such play with root meanings,real and spurious kinship, and metaphor suggests both non-referential speculation withinthe poem and semantic inference beyond the limited sphere of the poem.
In this sense, the ill omen of the blackbird's color and the number thirteen arecounterbalanced--though not entirely counteracted--by a counter-ethos of what I calledbefore the "optimism" of section V. Poe's raven can only reiterate"Nevermore," but Stevens' blackbird becomes a signifier that enables theproliferation of ever new contexts. The speculative activity of "Thirteen Ways"consists less in creating cognitive knowledge about some hypothetical truth than increating a poetic being, both as the text is being listened to and looked at and in thepost-poem silence, beyond the bird's whistling and the hearer's listening, and beyond theconfines of the page.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames,
clack of sticks cooking my meals,
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of
work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing
The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the
refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking
engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color'd lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars,
The slow march play'd at the head of the association marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse, the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)
I hear the violoncello, ('tis the young man's heart's complaint,)
I hear the key'd cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears,
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.
Birds whistling, crickets chirping, dog or wolf howling, cat singing, wind blowing, leaves rustling; … I made a list of sounds that fit every element of music.
As a last movement in this chapter, then, I would like to look at sections V and VIII,which signify the difficulty of the poet's balancing act. They illustrate in particularthe impossibility of choosing between external and internal speculation. In imagisticterms, sections V and VIII suggest alternatives: the pleasure felt during the blackbird'swhistling, as compared to that felt after it in V; a rhythmic or sound-oriented model forpoetic knowing, as compared to the primarily cognitive and/or symbolic model of theblackbird in VIII.