This is my 5th article in a series of ‘my favorite poems’ posts on the Fire Star Press blog.
Click on the poem’s titles to read the previous four articles.
Aug. 2020 – Acquainted with the Night, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
July 2020 – Invictus by William Ernest Henley
June 2020 – Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
May 2020 – My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke
This month, my poetic focus is Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. First, here is a little background about Stevenson.
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850 and died in 1894. The men in the Stevenson family were well-known Scottish lighthouse designers (civil engineers). Robert’s mother traced her ancestry back to ‘gentry’ of the 15th century. Robert was an only child. He led an interesting, but brief, life, much of which was spent in the United States. Read more HERE.
He was what my grandmother called ‘a sickly child’, which caused him to be bedridden throughout his life. It was from one of his bouts of bronchitis (called a ‘weak chest’ back then) during his childhood that he later wrote the poem The Land of Counterpane, which is one of the poems in a collection called A Child’s Garden of Verses. These poems in this book are Stevenson’s perspective on childhood in general, illness, playing, and solitude. This collection first appeared in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles.
Looking back from my adult’s perspective, I think the main reason I was so fond of Stevenson’s poetry in A Child’s Garden of Verses is because I grew up as an only child and learned to be my own company just as he was and did. I have a brother who is nearly 13 years younger than me, which made us each only children. I didn’t grow up lonely, per se, but being my own playmate did instill in me a preference for solitude that is with me to this day.
My parents and grandparents read to me, particularly at bedtime, and “A Little Golden Book” version of A Child’s Garden of Verses is one of my very first books. These are the versions I have.
While I could say something about each of the poems, I’ve narrowed my commentary to seven.
At the Seaside – I was a landlubber. This six-line poem was unimaginable to me. I couldn’t conceive of digging holes in the sand and having water seep in quickly and fill up the holes. The beach and the ocean had to be magical.
…By at a gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.
To this day, on a night when the wind howls with an ebb and flow, I imagine a man riding his horse and the sound of the horse’s hoof beats fading as they go by and then getting louder when they return.
The Land of Counterpane
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head…
I was bedridden many times in my childhood with rubella AND rubeola measles (aka Three Day/German – Hard/7-Day – I had them all, and if I could catch them more than once, I did.) chicken pox (three times) mumps, strep throat, ear aches, broken bones, concussion… That’s enough. I’ll stop.
(Note: If the two YouTube videos I’ve included don’t show up, it’s a ‘New’ Blogger issue that is out of my control to fix.)
Here is The Land of Counterpane read by Grampa Beesley.
…But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Because of this poem, I grew up believing my shadow was a sentient being, which was dually comforting and creepy. I didn’t know the word ‘anthropomorphic’ until adulthood, and it was an ‘ah-ha’ connection when I put it together.
The friendly cow all read and white,
I love with all my heart…
We had milk cows when I was a kid. Most of them were friendly and easy to milk. Others…not so much. There were a couple of “Bossy” cows (pet name for the really affectionate milk cows—Bossy Betsy, Bossy Betty, and Bossy Bridget), that reminded me of the cow in this poem.
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
I liked to swing so high that the chains would buckle and give me a good jolt when they straightened out on the swing-back.
This poem tugs at my heart with the last two lines of a lonely child looking forward to this daily diversion to interrupt his loneliness. I was occasionally that child.
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight.
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Lamplighter
What is your favorite Robert Louis Stevenson poem?
Until next time,
Stay in contact with Kaye—
Robert Louis Stevenson Image:
Henry Walter Barnett creator QS:P170,Q16026949, Robert Louis Stevenson by Henry Walter Barnett bw, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons