poem index

About this poet

Born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson came from a long line of prominent lighthouse engineers. During his boyhood, he spent holidays with his maternal grandfather, a minister and professor of moral philosophy who shared his love of sermons and storytelling with him. Prone to illness, Stevenson spent many of his early winters in bed, entertained only by his imagination and a great love of reading, especially William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, John Bunyan and The Arabian Nights.

Encouraged to follow the family tradition of lighthouse engineering, he began studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1867, but quickly discovered he preferred a career in literature. To satisfy his father, he acquired a law degree and was admitted to the bar by the time he was twenty-five.

Stevenson spent the next four years traveling through Europe, mostly around Paris, publishing essays and articles about his travels. In 1876, he met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, a married woman ten years his elder. When she decided to return to San Francisco soon after they met, Stevenson followed, taking the long voyage across the Atlantic and across the United States against the advice of his friends and physician. To add to his adventure and inform his writing, he chose to travel in steerage and was near death when he arrived in Monterey, California, in 1879. After being nursed back to health, he continued to San Francisco that winter, though it cost him his health. Osbourne, who had since been divorced, helped him recover. They married the following May.

After several months in the U.S. with his wife and her young son, Stevenson brought his family back to Britain. Frequently sick, he continued to write seriously, producing the bulk of his best-loved work. His first successful novel, Treasure Island was published in 1884, followed by A Child's Garden of Verses in 1885, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886.

A representative of Neo-romanticism during the Modernist period of English literature, Stevenson was an incredibly popular and successful writer. Though many leading critics dismissed his work entirely, he was admired by many authors, including Jorge Luis Borges, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Nabokov, and J. M. Barrie. He was also friends with Henry James, who was a vocal supportor his work.

Following the death of his father in 1887, Stevenson left again for the U.S. with his family, planning a move to Colorado. Upon landing in New York, however, they decided to spend the winter at Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. That summer he chartered a yacht and sailed through eastern and central Pacific, stopping for extended stays among the Hawaiian Islands. In 1890, Stevenson purchased a four hundred-acre estate in Upolu, one of the Samoan islands. He adopted the native name Tusitala (Samoan for "Story Writer") and soon became immersed in local politics.

By 1894, Stevenson had become increasingly depressed, convinced the best of his work was behind him. He wrote that he wished his illnesses would kill him. On the evening of December 3, 1894, he collapsed, possibly due to a cerebral hemorrhage, and died. He is entombed at Mt. Vaea, at a spot overlooking the sea, with a tablet on which his poem "Requiem" is inscribed.

Due in part to the rise of the modernist aesthetic, Stevenson's work fell out of favor. Criticized by figures such as Virginia Woolf, he was soon remembered only as a contributor to children's literature. For most of the 20th century he was excluded from the Oxford and Norton anthologies of literature entirely, though he is now included. According to an index of translated authors kept by UNESCO, Stevenson is ranked the 25th most translated author in the world, ahead of fellow Victorians Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
Underwoods (1887)
Ballads (1890)
Songs of Travel and other Verses (1895)

My Shadow

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,   
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.   
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;   
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.   
   
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;   
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,   
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.   
   
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,   
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;   
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!   
   
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,   
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;   
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, 
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed. 

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

Born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson

by this poet

poem
You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.
poem
I should like to rise and go   
Where the golden apples grow;—   
Where below another sky   
Parrot islands anchored lie,   
And, watched by cockatoos and goats, 
Lonely Crusoes building boats;—   
Where in sunshine reaching out   
Eastern cities, miles about,   
Are with mosque and minaret   
Among sandy
poem
At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my