Robert Louis Stevenson Poetry
Robert Louis Stevenson, in addition to his famous prose works, also wrote poetry ranging from children’s nursery rhymes to poems of travel and adventure. Here are a few samples for your enjoyment.
From A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885)
This collection was one of my childhood favorites, and I enjoyed sharing it with my boys when they were young. In re-reading them as an adult, I find that many of the lines are familiar and I can even recall some of the mental pictures the rhymes evoked.
THREE of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
Three of us aboard in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.
Where shall we adventure, to-day that we’re afloat,
Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
To Providence, or Babylon, or off to Malabar?
Hi! but here’s a squadron a-rowing on the sea—
Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we’ll escape them, they’re as mad as they can be,
The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.
THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE
WHEN I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.
THE LAND OF NOD
FROM breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay;
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do—
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
From Songs of Travel (1896)
HOME NO MORE HOME TO ME
(To the tune of Wandering Willie)
Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather;
Thick drives the rain, and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree.
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door—
Dear days of old, with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.
Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now, when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.
Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moorfowl,
Spring shall bring the sun and rain, bring the bees and flowers;
Red shall the heather bloom over hill and valley,
Soft flow the stream through the even-flowing hours;
Fair the day shine as it shone on my childhood—
Fair shine the day on the house with open door;
Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney—
But I go for ever and come again no more.
I have trod the upward and the downward slope;
I have endured and done in days before;
I have longed for all, and bid farewell to hope;
And I have lived and loved, and closed the door.
Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Still they are carolled and said—
On wings they are carried—
After the singer is dead
And the maker buried.
Low as the singer lies
In the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring
The swains together.
And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.
From New Poems and Variant Readings (1918)
THE OLD CHIMÆRAS, OLD RECEIPTS
The old Chimæras, old receipts
For making “happy land,”
The old political beliefs
Swam close before my hand.
The grand old communistic myths
In a middle state of grace,
Quite dead, but not yet gone to Hell,
And walking for a space,
Quite dead, and looking it, and yet
All eagerness to show
The Social-Contract forgeries
A hundred such as these I tried,
And hundreds after that,
I fitted Social Theories
As one would fit a hat!
Full many a marsh-fire lured me on,
I reached at many a star,
I reached and grasped them and behold—
The stump of a cigar!
All through the sultry sweltering day
The sweat ran down my brow,
The still plains heard my distant strokes
That have been silenced now.
This way and that, now up, now down,
I hailed full many a blow.
Alas! beneath my weary arm
The thicket seemed to grow.
I take the lesson, wipe my brow
And throw my axe aside,
And, sorely wearied, I go home
In the tranquil eventide.
And soon the rising moon, that lights
The eve of my defeat,
Shall see me sitting as of yore
By my old master’s feet.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
Robert Louis Stevenson
If you’d like to learn more about this author, you should check out our Robert Louis Stevenson biography, our recommendations for films based on his famed novel Treasure Island, or read G. K. Chesterton’s take on Stevenson.
When will you read Stevenson’s writing in Excellence in Literature?
E1.6 Focus text: Treasure Island