Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

A Child's Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson



  ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON (1850–94) was born into a famous Edinburgh engineering family. His middle name was originally Lewis, but Robert changed the spelling, while keeping the pronunciation. His father wanted him to become an engineer, but Robert's constant ill health pushed him towards an indoor job. After studying law, he was called to the Scottish Bar in 1875; but he made little effort as a lawyer, since he was already trying to make his mark in the world of literature. He published a number of essays and articles and accounts of travels: he travelled widely all his life, in search of a climate which suited him. Success eluded him, however, until 1883 when Treasure Island was published.

  Where all the greatest writers for children are concerned, it is probably true to say that the child-in-them never died. Nothing illustrates this better in the case of Robert Louis Stevenson than A Child's Garden of Verses. Published when he was thirty-five years old, every poem without exception captures the freshness, innocence and beauty of a child's vision of the world. It is clear that the ‘child’ in the title refers as much to the author as to any of the thousands of children who have enjoyed reading the poems over the years.

  Stevenson was vivacious with a strong voice and gestures, but he was abnormally thin. He was in fact more or less an invalid from the 1880s onward and probably suffered from tuberculosis. In the late 1880s he left California for a holiday with his family in the Polynesian islands of the Pacific, fell in love with the islands, settled on Samoa and never left. The natives called him Tusitala, which means ‘teller of tales’. He is buried high on a Samoan hill and his grave bears the following moving epitaph:

  Here he lies where he longed to be;

  Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

  And the hunter home from the hill.

  Some other Puffin Classics to enjoy


  J. M. Barrie



  Lewis Carroll


  Carlo Collodi


  A Child's Garden of Verses

  Decorations by




  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India

  Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published 1885

  Published in Puffin Books 1948

  New edition 1952

  Reissued 1994


  All rights reserved

  Filmset by Datix International Limited, Bungay, Suffolk

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-14-193494-5


  How the Verses were Written


  Bed in Summer

  A Thought

  At the Seaside

  Young Night Thought

  Whole Duty of Children


  Pirate Story

  Foreign Lands

  Windy Nights



  Looking Forward

  A Good Play

  Where Go the Boats?

  Auntie's Skirts

  The Land of Counterpane

  The Land of Nod

  My Shadow


  A Good Boy

  Escape at Bedtime

  Marching Song

  The Cow

  Happy Thought

  The Wind

  Keepsake Mill

  Good and Bad Children

  Foreign Children

  The Sun's Travels

  The Lamplighter

  My Bed is a Boat

  The Moon

  The Swing

  Time to Rise

  Looking-glass River

  Fairy Bread

  From a Railway Carriage


  The Hayloft

  Farewell to the Farm

  North-west Passage:

  1 Good Night

  2 Shadow March

  3 In Port


  The Unseen Playmate

  My Ship and I

  My Kingdom

  Picture-books in Winter

  My Treasures

  Block City

  The Land of Story-books

  Armies in the Fire

  The Little Land


  Night and Day

  Nest Eggs

  The Flowers

  Summer Sun

  The Dumb Soldier

  Autumn Fires

  The Gardener

  Historical Associations


  To Willie and Henrietta

  To My Mother

  To Auntie

  To Minnie

  To My Name-child

  To Any Reader

  Index of First Lines


  ‘These are rhymes, jingles; I don't go in for eternity and the three unities,’ Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to his friend Sydney Colvin of these verses. ‘I would just as soon call 'em “Rimes for Children” as anything else. I am not proud nor particular.’

  And he told his devoted old nurse, Alison Cunningham – ‘Cummy’ as he called her – that the little book was all about his childhood and should, therefore, be dedicated to no other person ‘but you who did so much to make that childhood happy… and as the only person who will really understand it.’… ‘Of course,’ he went on, ‘this is only a flourish, like taking off one's hat, but still a person who has taken the trouble to write things, does not dedicate them to anyone without meaning it; and you must try to take this dedication in place of a great many things I might have said and ought to have done.’

  Cummy had stayed with him throughout his childhood, which he described as being ‘in reality a very mixed experience, full of fever, nightmare, insomnia, painful days, and interminable nights; and I can speak with less authority of gardens than of that other land of counterpane’.

  Always delicate, he was subject as a child to attacks of croup – that dreaded haunter of Victorian homes – and other bronchial troubles; but he was fortunate in his nurse, who watched over him through the interminable nights, diverting him and indulging herself – for she had a great love of and feeling for words – by repeating in her rich Lowland accent, hymns, the metrical versions of the Psalms and the old tales of the Covenanters. One of young Louis's favourite games was to play at being Minister and holding Service in the Kirk.

  The first batch of these verses came to him at Braemar in the intervals of writing The Sea Cook, or Treasur
e Island, a Story for Boys, as he called it while it was still in its early chapters. The words were running off his pen as fast as his hand could shape the letters. It was a glorious moment of creation and achievement. He was confident of success and had his young stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, beside him, providing an enthusiastic audience.

  During the next four years (from 1881 to 1884) the rest of the rhymes were written, some in sadly different circumstances; as when he lay in the half darkness of a sickroom at Hyères with his right arm tied to his side to lessen the risk of further haemorrhage. He was accustomed to illness; and as he lay there, unable to read, hardly able to speak, his mind must surely have wandered back into those vivid memories of far-off days to pass the time, recalling with the peculiar clearness that comes in illness, not only the great occasions but also the little things, the smell of frost, the look of his own small footprints in new snow, the feel of darkness, the brilliance of spring days and the richness of summer.

  Was it from a memory of himself sailing boats on the Water of Leith, that he wrote ‘Where Go the Boats?’, playing, as he often must have done, while staying with his grandfather at the Manse at Colinton?

  ‘Do you remember,’ he asked Cummy, ‘making the whistle at Mount Chessie? I do not think it was my knife; I believe it was yours; but rhyme is a great monarch and goes before honesty, in these affairs at least.’ This little incident is told in ‘My Treasures’ (see page 64).

  Those years at the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties were rich ones for children with their annual yield of lovely picture-books by Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, and Walter Crane, cheap to buy but beautifully produced. New ideas were in the air, and it was suggested that Stevenson should provide a volume of stories for Caldecott to illustrate. He was thrilled with the idea, but somehow it came to nothing and, when his Verses were ready to be illustrated, Caldecott's health was already giving way (he died in the February of 1884) and Steven-son suggested either of the other great names, preferably Crane, as artist; but this, too, came to nothing, and the book was published in the spring of 1885 without any pictures.

  Much had happened since those joyful days when the first verses were written and Stevenson hardly knew whether to be pleased or otherwise when he first looked on the completed volume; but he had caught the spirit of those childish experiences so truly that he could not be cast down for long and though he wrote to Edmund Gosse: ‘I have now published, on 101 small pages, The Complete Proof of Mr R. L. Stevenson's Incapacity to Write Verses… They look ghastly in the cold light of print!’ yet he had also to admit that there was ‘something nice in the little ragged regiment’ and that ‘they seem to me to smile, to have a kind of childish treble note that sounds in my ears freshly – not song, if you will, but a child's voice.’


  Note: The quotations are all taken from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Sydney Colvin.




  For the long nights you lay awake

  And watched for my unworthy sake:

  For your most comfortable hand

  That led me through the uneven land:

  For all the story-books you read,

  For all the pains you comforted,

  For all you pitied, all you bore,

  In sad and happy days of yore:–

  My second Mother, my first Wife,

  The angel of my infant life –

  From the sick child, now well and old,

  Take, nurse, the little book you hold!

  And grant it, Heaven, that all who read

  May find as dear a nurse at need,

  And every child who lists my rhyme,

  In the bright fireside, nursery clime,

  May hear it in as kind a voice

  As made my childish days rejoice!

  R. L. S.


  In winter I get up at night

  And dress by yellow candle-light.

  In summer, quite the other way,

  I have to go to bed by day.

  I have to go to bed and see

  The birds still hopping on the tree,

  Or hear the grown-up people's feet

  Still going past me in the street.

  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?


  It is very nice to think

  The world is full of meat and drink,

  With little children saying grace

  In every Christian kind of place.


  When I was down beside the sea

  A wooden spade they gave to me

  To dig the sandy shore.

  My holes were empty like a cup,

  In every hole the sea came up

  Till it could come no more.


  All night long, and every night,

  When my mamma puts out the light,

  I see the people marching by,

  As plain as day, before my eye.

  Armies and emperors and kings,

  All carrying different kinds of things,

  And marching in so grand a way,

  You never saw the like by day.

  So fine a show was never seen

  At the great circus on the green;

  For every kind of beast and man

  Is marching in that caravan.

  At first they move a little slow,

  But still the faster on they go,

  And still beside them close I keep

  Until we reach the town of Sleep.


  A child should always say what's true,

  And speak when he is spoken to,

  And behave mannerly at table:

  At least as far as he is able.


  The rain is raining all around,

  It falls on field and tree,

  It rains on the umbrellas here,

  And on the ships at sea.


  Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,

  Three of us aboard in the basket on the lea.

  Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,

  And waves are on the meadows like the waves there are at sea.

  Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,

  Wary of the weather and steering by a star?

  Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,

  To Providence, or Babylon, or off to Malabar?

  Hi! but here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea –

  Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!

  Quick, and we'll escape them, they're as mad as they can be.

  The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.


  Up into the cherry-tree

  Who should climb but little me?

  I held the trunk with both my hands

  And looked abroad on foreign lands.

  I saw the next-door garden lie,

  Adorned with flowers before my eye,

  And many pleasant places more

  That I had never seen before.

  I saw the dimpling river pass

  And be the sky's blue looking-glass;

  The dusty roads go up and down

  With people tramping in to town.

  If I could find a higher tree

  Farther and farther I should see,

  To where the grown-up river slips

  Into the sea among the ships,

  To where the roads on either hand

  Lean onward into fairy land,

  Where all the children dine at five,

  And all the playthings come alive.


  Whenever the moon and stars are set,

  Whenever the wi
nd 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 highway, low and loud,

  By at the gallop goes he.

  By at the gallop he goes, and then

  By he comes back at the gallop again.


  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 coco-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,