To Any Reader by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘To Any Reader’ by Robert Louis Stevenson explores the childhood experiences of a Victorian child through an adult’s perspective.

‘To Any Reader’ by R L Stevenson is the last poem in his poetry collection “A Child’s Garden of Verses” in 1885. In this collection, he focuses on Children, especially childhood memories, seen from the perspectives of an adult. Stevenson dedicated the poems to his nurse Alison Cunningham, who took care of him in his young age and through his childhood illnesses. The book has some of the other notable poems of Stevenson like ‘The Land of Counterpane’, ‘My Shadow,’ and ‘The Lamplighter’.

To Any Reader by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Summary

To Any Reader by R L Stevenson explores the childhood experiences of a Victorian child through an adult’s perspective. The child in the garden is a child no more, for he has grown up a very long time ago. What the speaker sees through the child is nothing more than his memory from the past.

‘To Any Reader’ is Stevenson’s attempt to remind his reader, not to a particular one, but whoever reads it, the fact that all children grow up. What one sees are a moment and a memory. The child in the poem seems to be playing as if he is there in flesh and blood. But the next moment he becomes a “child of air”, a memory. The child playing around the garden look at another child of another time through the book. He is under the watchful eyes of his mother, but when he tries to do the same for the child in the book, the speaker reminds him that the child has “grown up and gone away”. Thus, any attempt of the child is of no use, to either of them.

 

Form and Structure

‘To Any Reader’ by R L Stevenson is a single stanza poem of sixteen lines. It consists of eight rhymed couplets. Written in the form of a conversation between the speaker and a young boy the poem has encapsulated his sentiments as an adult looking back at his childhood. Its metrical structure resembles iambic tetrameter, following duh-DUM, duh-DUM, duh-DUM, DUM patten.  The couplets in the poem rhyme as “AABBCCDDEEBBCCFF”. When observed closely, any reader can see “an image within an image” or “a scene within a scene” structure of the poem.

 

Themes

“To Any Reader” highlights childhood nostalgia, innocence, freedom, and happiness. At the same time, Stevenson attempts to remind his readers that all children eventually grow up. Using this as the last poem in the collection, Stevenson tells his reader (any) that “A Child’s Garden of Verses” is not only a book for children but also for adults who want to celebrate the memory of childhood. For, the poem deals with the themes like loss and loneliness. As he speaks of the child has grown up, it could be considered as the poet looking back at his past through his memories.

 

Literary /Poetic Devices Used

Stevenson has employed some of the interesting poetic techniques in the poem. Literary/Poetic techniques help to emphasize the poet’s emotion. A close reading of the text could help the reader identify the devices such as Enjambment, Imagery, and Symbolism being used by the poet.

 

Imagery

The poem has two dominant images. One is the child playing in the garden and the other is the child with the book in hand. These two images are adeptly merged to run through the end.  merge into each other and run through to the end. Both the book and the window image, represent an opening to the outside world. At the same time, they represent the reality that any child will grow up. Like the child observe the child from another time, one can visit childhood through nostalgia but cannot bring back the days passed.

 

Symbolism

The poet’s choice of using the “book” and “garden” can be taken as a symbol for “memory” and “happiness” respectively. The speaker in the poem tells the child to look through and observe another child at another time. This could be the speaker’s nostalgia for looking back at his childhood through his memory. At the same time, the child playing in the garden symbolizes childhood happiness.

 

Analogy

Stevenson draws an analogy in line four, “Through the windows of this book”. Like a window that helps one to observe the world outside by expanding horizons, a book also helps to expand a person’s horizons.

 

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1 to 6

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,

Another child, far, far away,

And in another garden, play.

In the first six lines of the poem, ‘To Any Reader’, the poet is directly speaking to his (any) reader. His listener in the poem is a child who is playing in the garden under his mother’s watchful eyes. The child is playing “round the garden trees”. While he plays, he suggests the child look through “the windows of his book”. He state’s that the child could see “Another child” playing in “another garden play”. In this simultaneous comparison, he carries his reader back to his childhood. With the help of the book as a window, he suggests the readers exercise watchfulness over the child in his book. The child in the book symbolises childhood frozen somewhere in the past, were on a visit through his/her memories. Here, he presents the ultimate truth of life repeating itself.

 

Lines 7 to 12

But do not think you can at all,

By knocking on the window, call

That child to hear you. He intent

Is all on his play-business bent.

He does not hear; he will not look,

Nor yet be lured out of this book.

In lines 7 to 12, in spite of the poet suggesting the child observe, he tells him that the child on the books is frozen in time. The child in the book can’t hear the reader for he is busy with his play. As if rightly guessed of the child’s thought process, the speaker tells his listener that the child in the book will not respond in a familiar way. He reminds him that he cannot, except like his mother draws his attention “By knocking on the window, call/That child to hear you.” As he is engrossed at his play the speaker says, “He does not hear; he will not look,/Nor yet be lured out of this book”.

 

Lines 13 to 16

For, long ago, the truth to say,

He has grown up and gone away,

And it is but a child of air

That lingers in the garden there.

In the lines between 13 and 16, Stevenson reveals the true state of the child in the book. The child seems to be present there in the garden in one sense, but not there in another. For he “has grown up and gone away” and what one sees is “but a child of air”. It is just a memory that lingers in the garden there. Thus, all one can do is observe and watch over, but intervene. When an adult looks back at his memory, he could see himself, but he cannot make any changes by breaking the child out of the historical confinement. Even if someone attempts to do so, it would be in vain.

 

Historical Context

‘To any reader’ is one of the notable poems in the collection “A Child’s Garden of Verses” published in 1885. Stevenson published it between two of his timeless classics, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It was published during the transgression period from late Romanticism to early Modernism. The poems in the collection, particularly, this poem is Stevenson’s expression of nostalgia. It is in one way, Stevenson’s search for the lost childhood and the lost child within himself.

 

Similar Poetry

The readers who read this poem could also read the following poems that deal with children and childhood, across centuries.

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Miz Alb
About
Miz Alb received her MA in English Literature. Her thirst for literature makes her explore through the nuances of it. She loves reading and writing poetry. She teaches English Language and Literature to the ESL students of tertiary level.
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