On my recent holiday I became reacquainted with a beloved old companion. As a young child I used to lie in bed reading A Child’s Garden of Verses. To me they seemed to be the observations of a lonely child and that struck a chord with me. I loved the rhythm, as in Windy Night
Whenever the moon and stars are set
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late at night when the fires are out
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
I was sure I’d heard that eerie sound and it was comforting to know another child had heard it too.
Stevenson died at the age of forty-four, after suffering a life of ill-health. He probably had tuberculosis but was never diagnosed with it. But he spent a great deal of time in bed resting,
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.
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.
His time in bed let his imagination roam. He wrote books as widely different as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Dr Hyde. A Child’s Garden of Verses was written in 1885 the year before Jekyll and Hyde and Kidnapped.
He was also a great traveller. He did huge walks, he travelled in Europe, lived in America for periods, and died in Samoa, where he had lived for some time. I am ashamed to say I still have not read Travels with a Donkey about his walk in the Cevennes, but now I am reminded of him I will seek it out.
If I have a favourite poem from A Child’s Garden of Verses, it would be From a Railway Carriage. The rhyming couplets mimicking the rhythm of the engine, the speed, the glimpses of other lives, all create an indelible impression of a world long gone. I read it and I am a child again.
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!