On this day in 1850, one of our greatest writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, was born at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh. The address still exists and, if you’re a RLS-groupie, like me, you can walk down the street and gaze in wonder at the house!
Today, up in his home-city, there are all kinds of events happening to celebrate what would have been his 167th birthday. Regrettably I can’t be there, so I thought I’d have my own little celebration here on my blog.
Stevenson is most famous for his children’s books, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. But he wrote much more than that. He was also a poet, an essayist, and a travel-writer. Regular readers of this blog will already know that I followed in his footsteps through the Cévennes in a series of posts last year, supplemented with photos of the places I visited as they are now.
Today, in honour of his birth, I wanted to introduce you to a couple of my favourite pieces of poetry from his book 'A Child's Garden of Verses'. First published 1895, my copy was printed in 1934 and originally belonged to my dad, who was also a browser in second-hand bookshops!
The gardener does not love to talk,
He makes me keep to the gravel walk;
And when he puts his tools away,
He locks the door and takes the key.
Away behind the currant row
Far in the plots, I see him dig,
Old and serious, brown and big.
He digs the flowers, green, red and blue,
Nor wishes to be spoken to.
He digs the flowers and cuts the hay,
And never seems to want to play.
Silly gardener! Summer goes,
And winter comes with pinching toes,
When in the garden bare and brown
You must lay your barrow down.
Well now, and while the summer stays,
To profit by these garden days,
O how much wiser you would be
To play at Indian wars with me!
At the very end of the book is a little known piece, that I have always loved, addressed...
To Any Reader
As from the house your mother sees
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
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.
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.