The Vagabond by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘The Vagabond’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a poem about one speaker’s desire to live a life close to nature and far from the rules of contemporary society. 

The Vagabond by Robert Louis Stevenson Visual Representation

The poet wrote this piece in an effort to share his love of or interest in this kind of life. Although he led a different one, his passion comes through clearly in his confident and courageous tone. Many readers are going to find themselves moved and connected to Stevenson’s assertions about what a good life is. At the same time, others are going to be hard-pressed to understand his speaker’s desire for a simple life.

The Vagabond 
Robert Louis Stevenson

Give to me the life I love,
  Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
  And the byway night me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
  Bread I dip in the river --
There's the life for a man like me,
  There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
  And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
  And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
  Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
  Biting the blue finger;
White as meal the frosty field --
  Warm the fireside haven --
Not to autumn will I yield,
  Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
  And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope, nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me.
All I ask, the heaven above
  And the road below me.
The Vagabond by Robert Louis Stevenson


Summary

The Vagabond’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a thoughtful poem about living a simple, free life.

The poem starts with the speaker asking someone, likely God, to allow him to live a life that he loves. He wants to be free and walk on the solid road, with the sky above him. He’s uninterested in the things that inspire most men and women, such as wealth or love. He just wants to see the world around him and be undeterred by rules, weather, or any other restriction on his movements. 

Structure and Form 

‘The Vagabond’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a four-stanza poem that is divided into eight-line stanzas. The poem uses a loose rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD alternating end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are a few examples of the pattern breaking though. For example, the first stanza rhymes ABABBCBC. 

Throughout the piece, Robert Louis Stevenson also uses a specific pattern of meter. It alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. This means that the odd-numbered lines (mostly) all contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed (or unaccented) and the second of which is stressed (or accented). 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and lines three and four of the second stanza. 
  • Juxtaposition: can be seen when the poet contrasts different images. For example, the brightness of heaven and the darkness of the night and the use of images related to winter and fall. 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Let” and “lave” in the second line of the first stanza and “Bed” and “bush” in the fifth line of the first stanza. 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

Give to me the life I love,

  Let the lave go by me,

Give the jolly heaven above

  And the byway night me.

Bed in the bush with stars to see,

  Bread I dip in the river —

There’s the life for a man like me,

  There’s the life for ever.

In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker begins by asking that they be given the “life” they love. They are seeking out a life filled with joy, their particular joy. He asks that the “lave” or stream goes by him and that he be given the ability to traverse the world as he pleases. His description of a bed furthers this in the bush and “stars to see.” He wants to live as a vagabond, as the title suggests. He’ll be attached to nowhere and always on the move. 

He notes that this is the “life for a man like me.” It’s the kind of life that he’d like to live forever. Surrounding himself with the nature that makes him happy is his goal. 

Stanza Two 

Let the blow fall soon or late,

  Let what will be o’er me;

Give the face of earth around

  And the road before me.

Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,

  Nor a friend to know me;

All I seek, the heaven above

  And the road below me.

In the next lines, the speaker adds that he doesn’t mind whether the “blow,” or death, falls sooner or later. Besides what he’s already asked for, he doesn’t care what is going to happen to him. He’s not looking for wealth or anything specific. He’s seeing not “hope” or “love.” These are the common experiences that most people are looking for in their everyday life and as the goal of their actions. 

He also dismisses the idea that he’d like a friend to know him. He’s happy to travel the world and experience it alone. He’s only interested in the earth beneath his feet and the “heaven above.” He’s seeking out a very simplistic existence, one that is not going to appeal to all readers. 

Stanza Three 

Or let autumn fall on me

  Where afield I linger,

Silencing the bird on tree,

  Biting the blue finger;

White as meal the frosty field —

  Warm the fireside haven —

Not to autumn will I yield,

  Not to winter even!

In the third stanza, the speaker presents the intended listener of the poem, likely God, with another option. Similar to what he asked before, he hopes that autumn is going to fall on him when he is “afield.” 

He speaks these lines with confidence. Even when he alludes to winter through the line “Biting the blue finger.” He knows that winter is a cause for concern for someone living outside or constantly traveling, but he also says that he’s not going to yield to it. He’s willing to face it if he means he can continue living the life he loves. 

Stanza Four 

Let the blow fall soon or late,

  Let what will be o’er me;

Give the face of earth around,

  And the road before me.

Wealth I ask not, hope, nor love,

  Nor a friend to know me.

All I ask, the heaven above

  And the road below me.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker repeats the line that began the second stanza. This is known as a refrain. He asks again that the “blow” or death falls when it needs to and asks that everyone be as it will be. 

All he needs is the road before him and the “face of earth around.” This is one of several examples of personification that readers can find throughout this poem. 

He also repeats the line about hope and love, although not word for word. In the final line, he says once more that he wants the “road below him.” He’ll travel happy that way, without the pressures of wealth, friendship, hope for change, or love. He’ll only depend on himself. 

FAQs

What is the meaning of ‘The Vagabond?’

The meaning is that the best kind of life is one lived free without complications or responsibility. He wants to walk free with only the heavens above him and the road below him. Whether or not this is truly a possibility is only briefly addressed when he speaks about winter. The poem does not touch on the difficulty of survival, access to needed money, and more. 

What is the message of ‘The Vagabond?’

The message is that it is a good thing to live outside the norms of society. He wants a free life, one that he speaks about with passion and love throughout. The poem is likely meant to make readers think about what living this way would be like and the pros of this kind of freedom. 

What is the main idea of ‘The Vagabond?’

The main idea is that freedom in nature is worth more than love, money, hope, or friends. The speaker values it above all else. He repeats this multiple times throughout the poem, ensuring that readers are well aware of where he stands. 

Who is the speaker in ‘The Vagabond?’

The speaker is unknown. Stevenson might have been conveying his own passion for a simple life, or he could’ve been channeling a persona, a fictional speaker who feels what is presented in the poem. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Louis Stevenson poems. For example: 

  • Winter-Time– depicts the winter season from a child’s perspective. His imagination comes through clearly in his depictions of what all there is to see and experience, negative and positive. 
  • The Land of Story-Books’ – describes a boy’s land of make believe, inspired by his collection of books.
  • Swallows Travel To and Fro’ – describes the freedom of human interconnectedness and the beauty in the similarity of our experiences.

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The Vagabond by Robert Louis Stevenson Visual Representation
Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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