Revisiting Poet’s Corner

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

A stroll past the intersection of Harrison and Bulkley will take you to one of Sausalito’s most venerable but often overlooked landmarks: Poet’s Corner.  Tucked into an overgrown hillside, you’ll find a stone grotto with a granite bench inscribed to memorialize Sausalito poet and playwright Daniel O’Connell.

O'Connell (1848-1899), who lived with his wife and seven children at Laurel Lodge in Sausalito's Wildwood Glen, was part of a literary circle that included Bret Hart, Samuel Clemens, Joaquin Miller, and Jack London. He was a creative spirit, a lively raconteur, and one of the founders of San Francisco's Bohemian Club. His presence was said to make every occasion a "Roman feast."

According to Sausalito historian Jack Tracy, “Legend has it that James W. Coleman, President of the North Pacific Coast Railroad Company, which brought the first rail line into Sausalito in 1875, built this cottage in 1886 and loaned it to O’Connell. The glen in which it was built was later often referred to as ‘O’Connell’s Glen’.”

O'Connell died suddenly at Laurel Lodge from a cold that turned into pneumonia. The bench at Poet’s Corner is inscribed with his final poem, “Chamber of Sleep,” which he finished some ten days prior to his death.  The last lines of the inscription provide a fitting epitaph:

Let shadows of quiet and silence on all my palace fall;

Softly draw my curtains . . . Let the world labor and weep—

My soul is safe environed by the walls of my Chamber of sleep.

William Greer Harrison, O’Connell’s biographer, said, "I knew him as a poet, litterateur, athlete, humorist, and Bohemian; and the more I saw of him, and the better I knew him, the more I loved him. His good humor was inexhaustible, his nature sunny, and his temper exceptionally sweet. But under the jester's garb, beneath the habiliments of humor, there was a nature strong, deep and extremely reflective . . . He had an abundant faith in the providential impulses of his friends, who never failed him. The cares of ordinary life passed him by as one immune."

Over the years, Poet's Corner has suffered from deferred maintenance, and a campaign is now underway to repair and clean the bench, steps, and mosaic tile floor, with its shamrock inlay. The effort is being led by Sausalito Beautiful, a local nonprofit that collaborates with the City of Sausalito to improve Sausalito's public spaces. Though much of the landscape work has been carried out by neighbors at no cost, the cleaning and repair of the hardscape elements requires the services of a qualified restoration specialist.

 Poet’s corner today Photo by Larry Clinton

Poet’s corner today
Photo by Larry Clinton

Friends and neighbors, Sausalito Bohemians and Bartlett Tree Experts have donated to the effort, but more money is needed to complete the restoration, including repair of the stone wall along Bulkley. Donations toward this project may be made payable to Sausalito Beautiful/Poet's Corner and mailed to Sausalito Beautiful, P.O. Box 222, Sausalito, CA 94966. All contributions are tax deductible and will be gratefully acknowledged. Any questions about the project may be directed to info@sausalitobeautiful.org.  The organization’s long-term goal is to create a Friends of Poet’s Corner organization to provide ongoing care to this hillside monument.