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Thirty Ways of Looking at a Flute

Paula Robison | September 2010

Editor’s Note: “Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird” is a poem from Wallace Stevens’ first book of poetry, Harmonium. First published in 1917, it consists of 13 short, separate poems, all of which mention blackbirds in some way. The poem has been the inspiration for at least three pieces of music: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Lukas Foss, Thirteen Ways by Thomas Albert, and Blackbirds for Flute and Bassoon by Gregory Youtz.

I. Among thirty reed bushes, where is the moving eye of the nymph Syrinx?
II. The music has glanced him; Pan breaks the branch, makes his song.
III. I am of many minds. Many flutes sit in my many minds.
IV. Rumi’s reeds sigh. He must write the pantomime.
V. Charon’s flute, sidelong gaze, the souls crossing the river Styx, Hades ahead.
VI. Marsyas’ body/flute realizes that’s it’s not a good idea to mess with Apollo.
VII. Athena’s flute, laughing, looks up from the water where she has thrown it.
VIII. Socrates’ dismissed flutes: what an insult, they hiss; narrowed keys.
IX. Hotteterre: try yet another fingering, or instead have a nice glass of wine?
X. Platinum in Georges Barrere’s hands: density is involved in what he knows.
XI. Severino Gazzeloni’s flute whispers the multiphonics.
XII. Jean-Pierre Rampal smiles out into Carnegie Hall; his gold flute winks at him.
XIII. Frederick’s flute gives lilting accents before the battle; noble men will die.
XIV. A fife trembles as the drums and the guns begin.
XV. Audition: flute keys stare with damp round faces.
XVI. A voice vibrates in the tube; will it escape and mark the edge of many circles?
XVII. An adversary, a broken key, a torn pad, reproach.
XVIII. A closed flute case waits.
XVIX. A closed flute case and a stack of music wait.
XX. An opened flute case beckons.
XXI. An opened flute case and a stack of music beckon. The river is moving.
XXII. A bamboo flute speaks of cherry blossoms.
XXIII. A cedar flute speaks of the plains and the sky.
XXIV. Julius Baker’s stolen flute: is it waiting in a glass coach somewhere?
XXV. Do the birds know that they are good teachers?
XXVI. William Kincaid’s flute sound, reflected in his shining hair.
XXVII. A contrabass flute waits like a bull at the gate.
XXVIII. Marcel Moyse’s flute makes an eternal sound.
XXIX. On a dark winter afternoon the flute weaves a sunlit ballade.
XXX. It flies into the trees and beyond to the innermost stretches of our souls.