Eleanor Roosevelt once said that it was important to do something every day that scared you.  But I prefer Anna Quindlen’s advice ~ she thinks that we need to surprise ourselves everyday, with surprises that arrive “through happy happenstance, doodles on the to-do list of life.”  The latest surprise for WWWW ~ a trip to Hartford, CT.

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The best thing about our trip to Hartford?  All the belly laughs over thin men and bawdy wenches, the snorting with laughter at our birding skill ~ and oh, the words, the words!

>>>>>>>

We drove to 118 Westerly Terrace in Hartford, CT and walked to work with Wallace Stevens.  Well, kind of.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stevens died in 1955 but the organization, Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens, keep his legacy alive though The Wallace Stevens Walk. (A poet with enemies? Business colleagues say he was a bit gruff and would sometimes answer long technical letters with a letter back that tersely stated, “No.”)

We retrace the steps of the insurance guy who had feet in two worlds, making his daily roundtrip, a two-and-a-half mile trek, on neighborhood sidewalks where he composed much of his poetry. The story goes that the businessman/poet was pretty tall, hulking almost, and somewhat overweight. (I’m thinking ~ Really? With all that walking?) He’d be spotted lumbering along, head bowed, then stopping to back up a few paces and repeat his steps.  WWWW thinks he must have been working out the tricky rhythm of the words in his mind.  In the steely shadow of the blackbird, we follow a series of stones along the twists and turns of concrete.  We see what Wallace Stevens saw, through his roving eyes, his thirteen ways of looking.

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Trust me, the WWWW touristas got a gray-matter workout.  We became one with the birds.  In 13 stanzas and 246 words.

We actually walked the series of stones twice, backwards and forwards, pursuing the dream with an interlude at Ambrogio’s Capital View Deli to devour wraps and sandwiches, then have a look at the statue of Alice Cogswell.

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C’mon, walk with us up Asylum Avenue.  Steven’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, is engraved on a series of stones beginning here, at the Hartford Insurance Group, where he worked for 39 years. We search the horizon for twenty mountains in vain.

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Stone I
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Just behind a black iron fence at Asylum Hill Congregational Church (Mark Twain’s church, by the way) is Stone II.

Stone III is located in front of the Hartford Conservatory.

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On a small lawn at a branch of the Hartford Credit Union, we are of four minds as to what Wally is thinking.

Stone 4

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Close to the road, right in front of the huge St. Francis Hospital, is Stone V.

There’s plenty of bird noise to prompt an avian investigation.  So we hunt for its source.  Is it a Rusty Blackbird?  a Tri-colored Blackbird? No, wait, wait, it’s a….BirdGuard Pro?!?!?!?

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Stone VI is in front of the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School.
(Here we experience a minor distraction as we desperately attempt to be interviewed and filmed by a local news crew.)

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Stone VII is on what feels like the boundary between urban and suburban.  I wonder if Stevens noticed it, too, as he strode to and fro.

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Across from the Connecticut Historical Society Museum is Stone VIII.

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Set alongside the driveway of a massive brick mansion behind a black iron gate, this stanza on Stone IX alludes to the Stevensian circles we are going in, trying to decipher the meaning of his words.

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Set on a slope in front of yet another manse, across from Steven’s favorite haunt, Elizabeth Park, is Stone X.

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Stone XI is on the corner of Terry Road,

an odd one-way/two-lane road divided by a grassy median.

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Now we’re on Westerly Terrace and nearing “home.”  Not far, as the blackbird flies.

Stone XII

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In the grass in the median in front of Steven’s home is the final stone in the series. During the entire walk, we see and hear cardinals, wrens, chickadees, and bluejays.  But it’s the blackbirds we came for. And thirteen ways of looking at them.

The Wallace Steven House

Stone XIII
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After we eye the sky one last time, we hop in the car and ask Siri to find us a coffee shop.  We’re so ready for a jolt of Java. So grab yourself a cup and have some fun with this link to a clever interactive version by Edward Picot ~ just another doodle on the to-do list of life.    http://www.edwardpicot.com/thirteenways/

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Toni 5/19/12

5 thoughts on “WHERE THIN MEN IMAGINE, THE RIVER MOVES, AND BLACKBIRDS FLY

  1. Wally must have written his poems the way my father wrote his summations to the jury. Dad would take himself out to the yard where he had an always-in-progress half-finished rock wall. He’d heft a stone, study it, switch it from hand to hand, weighing it and the words in his head and finally, maybe, or then again, maybe not, tuck it in exactly the right spot. And after lots of hours of wall building, he’d have his jury talk. Wally’s backing up and monosyllabic business letters gave him hefting time for his poems. This. Was. One. Fun. Walk. And, Toni’s right, full of surprise and laughs.
    Patty

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