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)

Travel

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894
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 gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far   
Hang for sale in the bazaar,—   
Where the Great Wall round China goes,   
And on one side the desert blows,   
And with bell and voice and drum
Cities on the other hum;—   
Where are forests, hot as fire,   
Wide as England, tall as a spire,   
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts   
And the negro hunters’ huts;—
Where the knotty crocodile   
Lies and blinks in the Nile,   
And the red flamingo flies   
Hunting fish before his eyes;—   
Where in jungles, near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,   
Lying close and giving ear   
Lest the hunt be drawing near,   
Or a comer-by be seen   
Swinging in a palanquin;—
Where among the desert sands   
Some deserted city stands,   
All its children, sweep and prince,   
Grown to manhood ages since,   
Not a foot in street or house,
Not a stir of child or mouse,   
And when kindly falls the night,   
In all the town no spark of light.   
There I’ll come when I’m a man   
With a camel caravan;
Light a fire in the gloom   
Of some dusty dining-room;   
See the pictures on the walls,   
Heroes, fights and festivals;   
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys. 

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
If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:-
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And
poem
Trusty, dusky, vivid, true, 
With eyes of gold and bramble-dew, 
Steel-true and blade-straight, 
The great artificer 
Made my mate. 

Honour, anger, valour, fire; 
A love that life could never tire, 
Death quench or evil stir, 
The mighty master 
Gave to her. 

Teacher, tender, comrade, wife, 
A fellow-farer
poem
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 in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?   
   
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,   
  And ships are tossed at sea,   
By, on the