Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Child’s Garden of Verses – R.L.Stevenson (RLS)

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 17, 2009

Ian McEwan in his novel Saturday makes this brilliant observation ” It is novels and movies, being restlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping youself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire and old fashioned skill like drystone walling or trout tickling“. Poetry has a form and capacity to make an impact on the reader and elevate him beyond ways that he can anticipate and understand.  In my mind, this aspect of poetry is beyond debate. While presently, I am not a great poetry aficionado, through my own erratic reading of poetry, I have experienced this elevation time and again. In the recent past I have read Robert Louis Stevenson’s (RLS) “Child’s Garden of Verses” and was taken in by the utter beauty and appealing aspect of his poetry.  For a man whose pen produced such adventure classics like “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped” and macabre horror classic like “Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde“, this collection struck me as an unusual deviation. Tender, touching and with full of love, longing and nostalgia, the poems are a wonderful tribute to childhood – a childhood as recollected by an adult

RLS has this wonderful ability to string together very simple words yet produce a depiction of reality which is extraordinary. Consider the poem, The Hayloft

Oh, what a joy to clamber there,
     Oh, what a place for play,
With the sweet, the dim, the dusty air,
     The happy hills of hay!

Look at the way the air around the hayloft is characterised: “sweet”, “dim” and “dusty” — I wonder if there can be a more accurate description! Alternately look at the poem: Bed in Summer

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

Would this not be the universal lament of all the children living in countries where in summer the daylight extends well past ten in the night engendering a desire to play till the daylight extinguishes? There are many poems in this collection that demonstrate this extraordinary ability of RLS to depict sharply observed objects or situations with a clarity that is effortlessly elevated. As I read through the collection, I also observed that RLS recreates a world that has now become extinct. Consider how well Leerie the lamplighter and his ritual of lamplighting is recreated:

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street
…………………………………………………………………………………………
…………………………………………………………………………………………

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

One also gets to see this ability to recreate a bygone age in the poem “Farewell to the Farm

Probably the most endearing quality of this collection is that all the poems without exception lend themselves brilliantly to a sing song rendition and there by transform themselves into  near perfect substitutes for lullabies. Consider the poem Singing

Of speckled eggs the birdie sings
     And nests among the trees;
The sailor sings of ropes and things
     In ships upon the seas.
……………………………………………
……………………………………………
The children sing in far Japan,
     The children sing in Spain;
The organ with the organ man
     Is singing in the rain

or the poem Nest Eggs

Soon the frail eggs they shall
     Chip, and upspringing
Make all the April woods
     Merry with singing

As I soaked in this enormously joyous read of mine, I could not help recall Kahlil Gibran’s thoughts on children “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…..You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts……………” . While this is utterly true, I think that RLS is probably that rare artist who came quite close to capturing the thoughts of children in a way no other artist did. For anybody interested in the complete collection it is available on the web at the following link: http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/collections/childs_garden_of_verses.html

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