Robert Louis Stevenson

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My Shadow Poem Summary

Give the central idea of the poem 'My Shadow' by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Quick Answer

The central idea of "My Shadow" is to restore the sense of childhood wonder in a time when science and facts are pervasive. The speaker is a child who cannot understand the concept of a shadow or what it is, that it isn't another person, and instead looks at his shadow in a new way, showing the reader how to think past the mere science of it. 


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Domenick Franecki eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "My Shadow" reflects the way in which a child might think of a shadow, without understanding the physics behind the way the shadow works. For example, the narrator, who speaks in the voice of a child, notes the way in which his shadow goes around with him and jumps into his bed before him. The narrator also notes the way in which the shadow gets suddenly bigger and smaller, without growing in the slow way a child does, and the way in which the shadow always stays close to the narrator.  

In the end, the narrator does not understand why the shadow doesn't accompany him outside on a sunny day (when, of course, the bright sunlight would make shadows impossible). The narrator's diction and the way in which he describes what he sees around him mirror the way a child would see the physical world. 

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This is a poem that was written for children, and concerns the way in which the child speaker cannot understand the true nature of his shadow and why it behaves in such a perplexing way. The poem is build around the character of the speaker and his childlike innocence. He clearly does not have an adult's understanding of science and the world, and therefore does not understand the way that his shadow is not actually another person. Such a treatment forces us to examine our own understanding of our shadow and how it functions in a new way as we look upon such scientific facts that are taken for granted in a different way. Note for example the way that the speaker talks about his shadow in the final stanza:

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.

Externalising the boy's shadow and personifying him in such a way helps us to see the world through a child's eyes again in all of its wonder and innocence. We know the reason by the shadow didn't go with the boy, because he left "before the sun was up," but at the same time, there is something touching in the way that the speaker refers to his shadow as "an arrant sleepy-head." Something of the wonder of childhood is restored to us through the use of the speaker being an innocent child.

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