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Three Men Walking II - Alberto Giacometti

View-of-east-haddam-connecticut-and-goodspeeds-landing-1880

A View of East Haddam

The "thin men of Haddam" appear in the first line of section VII of Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:" 

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 around you?

What is Haddam?Edit

Haddam is a small town of approximately 7000 located in the Connecticut River Valley, about 30 miles from Stevens' hometown of Hartford. Steven's choice of this locale seems to have been arbitrary -- though one might argue that in locating his "thin men" so close to home Stevens was positioning them as having some intellectual or artistic proximity to himself, something on the order of local rivals. 

Who are the "Thin Men?"Edit

The "thin men" are a bit mysterious. "Thin" is not a common word in Stevens' ouvre, appearing a scant twelve times according to the Online Concordance . Generally speaking, it seems to be deployed to register a failure of imagination, of presence, or of potency.

In this sense, then, the "thin men of Haddam" may recall Eliot's "hollow men" who are also stricken by a kind of existential impotence. It seems telling in this regard that Stevens upbraids the thin men for missing the actual blackbird in their midst, preferring instead its rather gaudy simulacra, the golden birds (themselves likely an allusion to the biblical Golden Calf).

The implication in terms of Stevens' poetics may be that the thin men represent a failure of a certain aesthetic philosophy: one that worships an idolatrous mimesis (a gilded echo of the actual) and thereby misses the essentially creative, if also distorting or disruptive, tension between a subject's perception of the real and the real itself. This may help to explain the presence of the women in this stanza, who, in harking back to the opposing term in the poem's defining unity: "a man and a woman are one"--might be read as standing in for the absolute real, the object of the artist's desire. Of course, unity between the real and the imagined in "Thirteen Ways" cannot occur except by the paradoxical presence of the creative imagination, signified (maybe) by the blackbird itself, which Helen Vendler calls "the determining focus of relation" in the poem. Thus for Stevens: "a man and a woman and a blackbird are one" [emphasis mine], while for the thin men, both the women and the blackbird, and thus all of reality--both noumena and phenomena--have been occluded by mere fancy.