Robert Louis Stevenson

Windy Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Windy Nights’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a children’s poem about a nighttime storm. It was first published in 1885 in A Child’s Garden of Verses. 

Depending on one’s interpretation of the poem, the “man” could be a physical person, or they could be a personified version of a nighttime storm. The latter is supported by the poet’s use of personification in other lines, as well as other references to a storm. But, it is up to the reader to determine who they think “he” is and why he’s galloping by. 

Windy Nights
Robert Louis Stevenson

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.
Windy Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson


Summary 

‘Windy Nights’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a thoughtful children’s poem that personifies stormy nighttime conditions.

In the two stanzas of this poem, the speaker outlines the specific conditions needed for an unknown “man” to ride by. It has to be nighttime, the wind has to be high, and the night has to be “dark and wet.” The speaker does not have an answer as to why he gallops past, but the speaker knows he is dependable. The second stanza adds more context and uses more repetition to emphasize the man’s return.

Structure and Form 

‘Windy Nights’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, known as sestets. The two stanzas follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCC, changing end sounds between the two stanzas. Stevenson also creates repetition through the use of anaphora. The first two lines of the first stanza and the first line of the second stanza all begin with the word “Whenever.” Other words, like “By,” are also used multiple times.

Literary Devices 

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

  • Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines five and six of the second stanza. 
  • Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. This can be accomplished through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in a line. For example: “By at the gallop he goes, and then.” 
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “Whenever the wind is high, / All night long in the dark and wet.” 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “stars” and “set” in line one and “whenever” and “wind” in line two of the first stanza.


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Whenever the moon and stars are set,

Whenever the wind is high,

All night long in the dark and wet,

A man goes riding by.

Late in the night when the fires are out,

Why does he gallop and gallop about?

In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker provides readers with the necessary exposition to understand what the poem is about. He is going to be talking about a “man” who goes “riding by” whenever the “moon and stars are set” and the “wind is high.” 

The first stanza is very focused on precise imagery. The reader should associate the man with a very specific atmosphere. It is dark and gloomy, but it is not necessarily frightening. 

Like many of Stevenson’s poems, this piece can be read by young audiences. The poet’s simple use of language and syntax allows readers of all ages to enjoy the images he presents.

The last two lines of this first stanza are a closed couplet. Here, the speaker admits that he does not know exactly why the man goes galloping by when the “fires are out.” While, the question may seem to be directed at the reader; it is, in fact, a rhetorical question. The speaker does not expect the reader to answer the question, nor do they expect the reader to have an answer of any kind at any point in the poem.

Stanza Two 

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,

And ships are tossed at sea,

By, on the highway, low and loud,

By at the gallop goes he.

By at the gallop he goes, and then

By he comes back at the gallop again.

The second stanza follows the same form as the first. The speaker provides readers with more information about the conditions required for the man to go “gallop again.” He only goes riding when “ships are tossed at sea” or when the “trees are crying aloud.” 

The first line of the second stanza is a great example of personification. The poet imbues trees, something nonhuman, with a human characteristic, “crying aloud.” This is also a good example of imagery in that it requires the reader to use their imagination in regard to what this would look like and sound like.

The final four lines of the poem are filled with examples of repetition. The poet uses the word “gallop” three times, begins each line with the word “By,” and two of these lines with “By at the gallop.” 

The poet uses so much repetition at the end of the poem in order to emphasize the repetitive nature of the man’s ride. He is dependable, and he is always going to come and ride past when the conditions are right.

FAQs 

What is the purpose of ‘Windy Nights?’ 

The purpose of this poem is to entertain and inspire. The poet wrote this piece for young readers in an effort to trigger their imaginations. It should make readers wonder who this man is and feel haunted by the conditions he arrives in.

What is the tone of ‘Windy Nights?’ 

The tone is questioning and descriptive. The speaker does not pass judgment on the man nor on the reader. They describe the conditions that the man arrives in and question why he chooses to gallop when he does.

Who is the speaker in ‘Windy Nights?’ 

The speaker is unknown. But, their identity does not influence the poem at all. Readers can fully appreciate and understand the piece without understanding the speaker as a specific person.

What is the poem ‘Windy Nights’ about? 

The poem is about a man who rides at night through the darkest, wettest and most frightening conditions. He only comes when the wind blows and the nights are “dark and wet.”


Similar Poetry 

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

  • Autumn Fires’ – a straightforward, celebratory poem that compares autumn colors to a raging wildfire.
  • My Shadow’ – told from the perspective of a child who is trying to understand what purpose his shadow serves.
  • Rain’ – a simple poem that depicts the rain in four short lines as it falls “all around” impacting several different settings. 

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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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