For #ThrowbackThursday during the month of May, I will share four of my favorite young childhood books. Today’s book is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.
A bit about Robert Louis Stevenson…
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.
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850 and died in 1894. He was a sickly child, which caused him to be bedridden periodically throughout his life. It was from one of his bouts of bronchitis (aka ‘weak chest’) 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 as an adult, 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 Stevenson’s poetry spoke to me from that perspective. I was almost 13 when my brother was born, but the reality is we both grew up as only children, because of the age difference. I learned to be my own company just as Stevenson did. I didn’t grow up particularly lonely, and I wasn’t sickly, but being my own playmate did instill a preference for solitude that is with me to this day.
My parents and grandparents read to me, particularly at bedtime. “A Little Golden Book” version of A Child’s Garden of Verses is one of my very first, and favorite, books.
I have three editions of A Child’s Garden of Verses. Left to Right: 1957 edition, 1962 edition, 1989 edition
This is the LibriVox Public Domain site where you can listen to A Child’s Garden of Verses.
This is the the Project Gutenberg url for the various downloads of A Child’s Garden of Verses.
While I could say something about each of the poems, I’ve narrowed my commentary to seven.
At the Seaside – I was, and am, a Colorado 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…
The few times I was sick when I was a kid, I related to this poem. I’d have my little farm animals and such arranged on my bed covers to keep myself entertained.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…
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 had an Ah-Ha connection when I learned the word anthropomorphic.
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. We had a series of “Bossy” cows, which is a pet name for a really affectionate milk cows. Bossy Betsy, Bossy Betty, and Bossy Bridget are the ones I recall, and they 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.
Until next time,
writing through history one romance upon a time