Robert Louis Stevenson

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How can I explain the poem "Travel" by Robert Louis Stevenson?

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Rebecca Hope eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This poem was part of Robert Louis Stevenson's collection of poems called A Child's Garden of Verses. Like many poems in the collection, "Travel" is written in the voice of a child, probably a boy. In this poem, the boy imagines being able to travel to faraway places, some real, some fictional. The land where golden apples grow may refer to the myth in which Hercules was tasked with obtaining the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Another fictional land the boy would like to visit is the desert island where Robinson Crusoe, hero of Defoe's novel, lived. The boy then mentions a Muslim city, perhaps Constantinople, and China's great wall. Scenes from Egypt and Africa are envisioned. The last sixteen lines of the poem discuss finding an archaeological site of an ancient city, now empty, lying in the desert sands of Egypt. The boy describes the lonely city, all of whose boys, whether chimney sweeps or princes, have grown to manhood years ago. During the day, no footstep is heard in the city, and at night no lamps are lit. The boy imagines that he will visit this site when he is a man. He will hire a caravan of camels and journey there. Upon his arrival, he will sit down in one of the homes and light a fire in its dining room. He will observe the paintings on the walls and find in a corner a collection of toys that the Egyptian boys left behind.

The poem captures the delight young children have in learning about faraway places filled with people whose lives and homes are quite different from their own. Children often have a hard time separating fiction from non-fiction, but since the boy is only daydreaming about visiting these places he has learned about in books, it doesn't really matter. Reading books, or listening to books being read, is an important way for children to develop "theory of mind," that is, the ability to put themselves in other people's shoes. This poem captures a delightful experience of a boy's childhood: the process of developing his theory of mind and his imagination by reflecting on books that have been read to him.

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