Though he had to undergo physical afflictions due to his weak lungs, he had his share of happiness. From a very young age, literature became his source of remedy for his sufferings. He has written many poems which speak about his hopes, travels, sufferings, and other experiences he gathered throughout his life. His poetic works are compiled and published under A Child’s Garden of Verses, Underwoods, Songs of Travel and Other Verses (posthumously by Sidney Colvin). These collections include some of his most famous and acclaimed poems of all time.
The Land of Counterpane
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.
The Land of Counterpane can be considered a lyric poem, as it gives the author’s personal feelings and thoughts. It can also be categorized as a narrative poem, as it tells the story of the speaker’s imagination creating a world right before their eyes. Stevenson’s biography provides a framework through which to read The Land of Counterpane just as the speaker is ill in the poem and has to entertain themself while they rest in bed, Stevenson was a sickly child, and his illness followed him into adulthood.
He did a good portion of his writings during convalescence. His descriptions of illness and coping with sickness came from firsthand experience. The text speaks to the power of the imagination and the creative individual to surpass the body’s physical limits and maintain a sense of identity, advocating for positive responses to seemingly negative situations.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
‘My Shadow’ describes a child’s excitement over seeing his shadow. As he observes his shadow closely, feels thrilled to find how his shadow changes and follows wherever he goes and whatever he does. From the excitement, the child turns curious as it wonders about the changing shapes of the shadow for everyone. The child’s innocence could make any adult take a journey back to the time when everything was perceived with a sense of awe before science made things more precise and logical.
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Stevenson’s ‘The Lamplighter’ is one of his autobiographical poems which speaks about the hope of recovery. Having been a sick child, growing up in an isolated situation, Stevenson often speaks about children’s sufferings in his poems but with a hope for the future. Like the child in the poem, he may have had hope of becoming better: “when I am stronger.” Further, he dreams of what he will do in the future when he grows up, which shows his desire to escape from the normality of his life and chase adventure.
The Land of Nod
From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
‘The Land of Nod’ describes the dreamland children visit when they are asleep, through a boy who is confounded to the four walls with his toys. Not only that, in this particular place, the child is also relieved from all ailments or illnesses, or limitations of the day. On the contrary, he visits the Land of Nod, where the familiar objects of his room have transformed and given a magical personality.
Smooth it slides upon its travel,
Here a wimple, there a gleam –
O the clean gravel!
O the smooth stream!
‘The Looking glass Mirror’ picturizes the magical charm of the river with its ‘looking-glass’ effect. On a deeper level, it speaks of life’s ups and downs as the children lose their reflections when the light goes off. The speaker assures that it is temporary and the light will come back, so does the reflections. When we looked down at the river, we could see ourselves and reflected the world around us.
To Any Reader
As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
‘To Any Reader’ is the last poem in his collection “A Child’s Garden of Verses, ” highlighting childhood nostalgia, innocence, freedom, and happiness. He intends to remind his readers that all children eventually grow up, and adults could reflect on their childhood memory while reading the poems in the collection.
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will
The poem “Requiem” is a self-written epitaph of R.L. Stevenson inscribed on his tomb as suggested by him. It was composed in 1880 after his near to death experiences in 1879. In this short poem, he expresses his wish of where he should be laid after his death. It features death, contentment, and the idea of returning home as he willingly embraces death like a “sailor” or a “hunter” returning home.
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
The poem celebrates the changes that come as the autumn season begins. The speaker sees changing colors as the season changes leaving red fires of changing leaves. Speaking about change, life/death, and the seasons, the speaker highlights the necessity and beauty of change. The poet alludes to the transition between life and death through summer’s transition into spring. He insists that every change is beautiful and essential to retain nature’s beauty.
Stevenson is best known for his ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses‘. He has also written much lyric poetry and a range of lively verses in Scots. In his poetry, Stevenson most effectively expressed his experiences of growing up and the pain of his separation from Scotland.
A representative of Neo-romanticism during the Modernist period of English literature, Stevenson was an incredible and successful writer.
Stevenson has not stuck to any of the particular stanza forms. He often chose to imbue his poems with free verse forms that are not limited to any particular line length.