Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California in Robert Hass’s “The Harbor at Seattle”

PHOTO CREDIT: Ed Villanueva. This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“They used to meet one night a week at a place on top of Telegraph Hill to / explicate Pound’s Cantos…”1

In his poem “The Harbor at Seattle,” Robert Hass describes a group of friends who meet on Telegraph Hill to discuss Ezra Pound’s Cantos.  In his typical style, Hass weaves through descriptions of seemingly unrelated topics, here only held together by the thread of how each friend deals with loss.  At the end of the poem he brings together their methods of coping with the story of why the back of Telegraph Hill is so steep: after the earthquake in 1906, ships bringing supplies from the Northwest used blasted rock from the back of Telegraph Hill as ballast on their return trips.  These rocks, when dumped, created the harbor at Seattle.

Telegraph Hill rises to 284 feet and is visible above much of San Francisco.  In the mid-nineteenth century a semaphore telegraph was erected at the top of the hill to signal information about the type of ships entering the bay through various arrangements of the telegraph’s two arms.  Today Telegraph Hill is easily recognizable by the distinct Coit Tower that sits at the top.  The Coit Tower was built in 1933 and is named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who donated part of her estate for the beautification of San Francisco.

Read more about “The Harbor at Seattle,” which appears in the collection Human Wishes at a local library or on Amazon.

1Hass, Robert. “The Harbor at Seattle.” Human Wishes. New York: Ecco, 1989. 25. Print.

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[Note:  For the first Daily Spot I considered posting about Tucson since it is Booma’s hometown, or about a location from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was the first book I mapped years ago, but in the end I decided on a location from one of my favorite poets.  Robert Hass’s attention to location shaped my view of California long before I ever made my first trip to that storied state, and I specifically remember craning my neck to look for the steep side of Telegraph Hill as we drove through San Francisco years ago.  More than with any other writer’s, Hass’s descriptions of place have unexpectedly bubbled into my consciousness during my travels and reminded me that I have known some places even before visiting them, which is at the heart of what Booma is. –DH]


  1. Boo yah to booma. How about Tucson via Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees? Thanks, g