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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was an author and poet, and some of his well-known works include Kidnapped and Treasure Island. He also wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, published in 1885, and dedicated it to his nurse.

This small compendium of poems are a lovely insight into the world of a child, and many of them have been formed from Stevenson’s own impressions of childhood. They do not use difficult or complicated words, but succinctly and poetically capture the nature of a child’s experiences.

I have recently bought a copy of these verses and was scrolling through them when I found a poem that reminded me of my own children.

The Unseen Playmate

Adventures with the Unseen Playmate

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.
 
Nobody heard him and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he’s sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.
 
He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass,
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass;
Whene’er you are happy and cannot tell why,
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!
 
He loves to be little, he hates to be big,
‘Tis he that inhabits the caves that you dig;
‘Tis he when you play with your soldiers of tin
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.
 
‘Tis he, when at night you go off to your bed,
Bids you go to your sleep and not trouble your head;
For wherever they’re lying, in cupboards or shelf,
‘Tis he will take care of your play-things himself!

I particularly like the reference to the obviously Bad Frenchmen! Very English of him!

It is always refreshing to see life through the eyes of a child.

Hopefully I might post more of these gems soon!

Related Posts

Up into the Cherry Tree – another poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

What If?: The Road Not Taken – a poem by Robert Frost

Sources and Relevant Links

Robert Louis Stevenson – website dedicated to all things RLS

A Child’s Garden of Verses – read online

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Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet, and published one of his most famous poems, The Road Not Taken, in 1916.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem is short and relatively simple, yet I find it profound.

The first stanza opens with the image of a fork in the road, and the speaker – wishing he could travel both – wonders which one to choose.

The speaker picks one of the roads in the second stanza, saying that it looks less worn, but once he walks along it, discovers they are worn about the same really.

In the third stanza, the speaker reveals his desire to go back one day to take the other road, but realises that it doesn’t often happen that way. “Way leads on to way” signifies how, in life, often one decision then leads to a new place with new choices to make.

The speaker then thinks what might happen in his future. The fourth stanza reveals that in the future “ages and ages hence”, the speaker may look back “with a sigh” and say how he took one road and that choice “has made all the difference”. The speaker does not reveal whether the sigh is one of satisfaction or one of regret, and likewise, whether the difference that the choice has made is a good difference or a bad difference.

“The road” in this poem can be thought of as a metaphor for a decision or choice. A fork in the road therefore represents two choices that need to be made, where choosing one prevents the choice of the other one. Many of life’s choices are like this… who to marry being an obvious one!

What I love about this poem is that is represents how choices lead us on a journey through our life, in the same way as a road leads us on a journey through the countryside.

Where will your choices lead you?

Related Posts

The Lady of Shallot: Tennyson and Waterhouse

A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart – a poem from 1765

Relevant Links

Robert Frost’s poems

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The poem, “The Lady of Shalott”, was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1833, and was based on Elaine of Astolat, from the times of King Arthur.

In the 13th century, a group of works (commonly called the Vulgate Cycle) were written about the legend of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and Merlin, and it is from this group of literature that we first learn of Elaine. The story is told about a young lady that falls in love with Lancelot. After he sustains an injury in a jousting fight, she nurses him back to health, but he leaves her house without returning her love. She then dies of a broken heart, and – on her instructions – her family put her body in a barge and float her down the river to Camelot.

Whilst there have been many adaptations of the story, there have also been many visual portrayals of Elaine, painted by many artists. One of these artists was John William Waterhouse, who painted several versions in 1888, 1894, and 1916. Each of these portrayals correspond to a different section of Tennyson’s poem.

Part One
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
    To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go, 
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
    The island of Shalott.
 
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
    Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
By the margin, willow-veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken sail’d
    Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land
    The Lady of Shalott?
 
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
   Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, “Tis the fairy
    Lady of Shalott.” 
 
Part Two
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
    To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care has she,
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
    Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
   Pass onward from Shalott.
 

"I am half sick of shadows," said the Lady of Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or a long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
    Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
    And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
“I am half sick of shadows,” said 
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
Part Three
A bow shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
    Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield
That sparkled on the yellow field,
    Beside remote Shalott.
 
The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
    As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
    Beside remote Shalott.
 
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
    As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
    Moves over still Shalott.

She left the web, she left the loom, she made three paces thro' the room

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode
    As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
    Sang Sir Lancelot.
 
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
    She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
Part Four
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
    Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
    “The Lady of Shalott.” 

She loosed the chain, and down she lay

And down the river’s dim expanse –
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With a glassy countenance
    Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
Lying robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right –
The leaves upon her falling light – 
Thro’ the noises of the night
    She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-heat wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
Heard a carol, mournful, holy
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
    Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
    The Lady of Shalott.
 
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
    Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
    “The Lady of Shalott”.
 
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
    All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, ” She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
    The Lady of Shalott.”

Related Posts

What If?: The Road Not Taken, a poem by Robert Frost

Relevant Links

The works of Tennyson

The works of Waterhouse

 

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