Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The first poem in the series sets the overall theme of the sequence. Like poems 4 and 9, it represents a list, but it is also an objective correlative, the vehicle of an unstated metaphorical equation. The list consists of “twenty snowy mountains,” a blackbird, and the blackbird’s eye, but it also contains one other item not mentioned. Every poem has a narrator (the narrator of numbers 2, 5, and 8, for example, is “I,” the author). Although there is no “I” in the first poem, someone is looking at this vista, so a fourth item in the list is the narrator. There are other things one might add by implication; if the narrator can see “twenty snowy mountains” in the distance, that means that his field of vision is deep and vast. The color white is specified in “snowy,” as is the color black in “blackbird.” Closeness is also implied, for the blackbird is close enough to the speaker to be seen clearly; in fact, it is so close that the narrator can see not only the blackbird’s eye but also the eye moving—it is, in fact, “The only moving thing,” so stasis is implied as well as motion. These are the contrasts of the poem: vastness (mountains) and smallness (blackbird, blackbird’s eye); distance and closeness; whiteness and blackness; motion and stillness. One may ask why the poet is speaking only of contrasts and why an eye is mentioned. Is it what the blackbird sees that is important? What does the blackbird see? No doubt it sees the...

(The entire section is 584 words.)