Wallace Stevens on Hartford

Wallace Stevens watches the sunset over the  city and listens to the Hog River behind 61 Woodland Street

Of Hartford in a Purple Light
A long time you have been making the trip
From Havre to Hartford, Master Soleil,
Bringing the lights of Norway and all that.

A long time the ocean has come with you,
Shaking the water off, like a poodle,
That splatters incessant thousands of drops,

Each drop a petty tricolor. For this,
The aunts in Pasadena, remembering,
Abhor the plaster of the western horses,

Souvenirs of museums. But, Master, there are
Lights masculine and lights feminine.
What is this purple, this parasol,

This stage-light of the Opera?
It is like a region full of intonings.
It is Hartford seen in a purple light.

A moment ago, light masculine,
Working, with big hands, on the town,
Arranging its heroic attitudes.

But now as in an amour of women
Purple sets purple round. Look, Master,
See the river, the railroad, the cathedral…

When male light fell on the naked back
Of the town, the river, the railroad were clear.
Now, every muscle slops away.

Hi! Whisk it, poodle, flick the spray
Of the ocean, ever-freshening,
On the irised hunks, the stone bouquet.


Frogs Eat Butterflies, Snakes Eat Frogs, Hogs Eat Snakes, Men Eat Hogs

It is true that the rivers went nosing like swine,
Tugging at banks, until they seemed
Bland belly-sounds in somnolent troughs,

That the air was heavy with the breath of these swine,
The breath of turgid summer, and
Heavy with thunder’s rattapallax,

That the man who erected this cabin, planted
This field, and tended it awhile,
Knew not the quirks of imagery,

That the hours of his indolent, arid days,
Grotesque with this nosing in banks,
This somnolence and rattapallax,

Seemed to suckle themselves on his arid being,
As the swine-like rivers suckled themselves
While they went seaward to the sea-mouths.


Here’s a map to get a visual of the area.  You can see how the river meanders through the neighborhood.  Scroll in or out.  See satellite view too:


3 responses to “Wallace Stevens on Hartford

  • jschristie

    According to the Weaver book, in the early 1800’s, the Park River (earlier the Little River) was known as the “Hog River” because the new industrial companies were dumping so much waste into it. At the same time the “meaner sort” (meaning the working people, particularly the Irish – Hartford’s first immigrant population and hated by all the “better sorts” and the “middling sorts”) were working at the tanneries and the slaughter houses living in “foul smelling” tenements along the river where Bushnell park would later be (35, 76). Hard to connect this stuff with Wallace.

    • efarbman

      Yes–who knows what was in Wallace’s head? Ever, maybe, but here in particular. Still, when I read in Helen Post Chapman’s book that the river behind her house (which she says was at 61 Woodland Street!) was called ‘the Meandering Swine,” the name clicked in my mind with those two last lines: “As the swine-like rivers suckled themselves/ While they went seaward to the sea-mouths.” And then I noticed the way the poem’s title rolled out between two “hogs.” Anyway, I can imagine Wallace walking along Asylum St, past the site of Helen’s old house and our old school, and playing with piggy imagery.

  • jeffpartridge

    Baldwin mentions an ode to the vision of beauty and harmony written by Lydia Sigourney around the time (and, I think he means, on the occassion) of Bushnell’s park proposal (p.27). I went looking for it. I didn’t find it, but I did find enough to know that I want to read through some of her writing. Here is a link to one of her many works:

    The poem Baldwin mentions is called “The Park,” and it was published in the Courant 21 Nov 1853. I did a brief search but couldn’t find it. Anyone else want to give it a go?

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