‘Swallows Travel To and Fro’ is a three-stanza poem written by the author, Robert Louis Stevenson. The poem has a very clear rhyme scheme of aaabcccb dddefffe ggghhhhh. This pattern of rhyme was not chosen of a whim, its swooping and graceful nature carefully and effectively mimics the actual words used in this piece. The first three lines of the first stanza stand as a perfect example.
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Summary of Swallows Travel To and Fro
Stevenson crafted this poem with the idea of human interconnectedness in mind. He wanted to demonstrate through his speaker how everyone, no matter where they live can relish their relation through nature. Stevenson uses the image of the “swallows traveling to and fro” to demonstrate the freedom of the world and one’s connection to everyone else. This piece begins with the swaying motion of the wind and breeze, created through his word and rhyme choice. The breeze bears love on its back and transports it wherever it travels. The first stanza concludes by saying that at noon, no matter where “you and I” are, we see the “same sunshine above.” The poem continues on, demonstrating how when summer comes, the world is awash with creatures, and burgeoning harvest, and the breeze “brings / into contact distant things.”
The conclusion of the poem emphasizes our connection through our senses, and our closeness through our mutual experience of the world. This connection, Stevenson’s speaker says, should make one “tremble” with “delight.”
Analysis of Swallows Travel To and Fro
Swallows travel to and fro,
And the great winds come and go,
And the steady breezes blow,
Bearing perfume, bearing love.
‘Swallows Travel To and Fro’ begins with a repetition of the title phrase, setting the tone for the rest of the poem. This simple image of swallows traveling imitates a repetition of imagery related to travel, freedom, and nature. The following two lines rhyme with the first and continue this motion of travel. The “great winds come and go,” back and forth like the swallows, they move through the sky. Continuing on, the calmer “stead[ier]” breezes blow more gently alongside the stronger winds. These forces carry with them “perfume” and “love.” This line introduces the idea of emotions (love, kinship) traveling long distances within nature. This concept will resurface throughout the piece.
Breezes hasten, swallows fly,
Towered clouds forever ply,
And at noonday, you and I
See the same sunshine above.
The second half of the first stanza continues with this theme, but introduces the relationship between the speaker and someone that he cares about.
The next lines mark the continuation of a day, the “breezes hasten” and the swallows continue to fly, traveling freely from one place to another without restriction. The clouds above the speaker are said to “forever ply.” They are stacked endlessly one on top of the other, they seem to go up into the sky forever.
At noon of this day, the speaker and the person to whom this poem is being spoken, “see the same sunshine above.” This gives the impression that the two people are not in the same location, but are connected by the same natural experiences.
Dew and rain fall everywhere,
Harvests ripen, flowers are fair,
And the whole round earth is bare
To the moonshine and the sun;
And the live air, fanned with wings,
Bright with breeze and sunshine, brings
Into contact distant things,
And makes all the countries one.
The second stanza introduces a number of other types of weather and natural experiences. Now, in the world of the speaker, “dew and rain” are falling and crops are ready for harvest. Summer has come, and the earth is the direct recipient of “moonshine” and “sun.”
Along with a great amount of sunshine, and a plentiful harvest, the air is full of “fanned wings;” birds flying everywhere. They fill the air so completely it’s like the sky is alive. The air is alive, and “bright” and entrenched in “sunshine.” Due to the fact that the weather is so pristine, all the world is out and in contact with “distant things.” The world is connected by its weather and inhabitants.
Let us wander where we will,
Something kindred greets us still;
Something seen on vale or hill
Falls familiar on the heart;
So, at scent or sound or sight,
Severed souls by day and night
Tremble with the same delight –
Tremble, half the world apart.
This next section of ‘Swallows Travel To and Fro’ brings the speaker directly to the forefront as he addresses the readers and/or listeners. After speaking of the freedom of the world’s elements and creatures, the speaker is now inspired. He wishes “us” to travel and “wander where we will” because no matter where one goes, there will be “Something kindred” there to greet “us.” This kindred thing may be something familiar one sees, something that relates back to ones own home; creating a connection from one place to another.
The poem concludes with four lines that bring together the overarching theme, and meaning behind this piece. “Souls” that are seperated, or “severed,” can be brought together either by “scent or sound or sight.” One person, through nature, can find a connection with someone living on the other side of the world. The similarity of human experience brings everyone together. Stevenson states that this experience is “delight[ful]” and is very clearly reveling in the nature of human interconnectedness.
About Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in November of 1850 and was sickly from birth. His mother passed onto him her weak lungs and he had a live-in nurse as a child. He started attending school at seven and when he eventually attended college his performance was poor. He was hoping to become a lighthouse engineer like his father, but did not apply himself to his studies. He was known for his lavish dress and visiting of brothels. Stevenson eventually changed his ambitions and decided to become a lawyer in the hope of appeasing his father, but he never practiced. While studying law, Stevenson also taught himself how to write and his work was published in a number of periodicals.
Stevenson’s first two published books were based on his extensive travels. He was frequently ill and his wife Fanny, who had left he first husband for Stevenson, was often responsible for his care. Treasure Island, his first successful novel was published in 1884, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde followed in 1886. Stevenson was an intensely popular writer and was admired by many including Vladimir Nabokov and Ernest Hemingway. Stevenson and his family moved to the Samoan islands in 1890 and by 1894 he had become increasingly depressed and died from a cerebral hemorrhage.