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Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-1894) poem "The Vagabond" celebrates the glorious freedom and independence of a tramp's life. All the four stanzas of "The Vagabond" repeatedly emphasize the unrestrained joys of an independent life in the outdoors free from all its hassles.
All that the vagabond is interested in is a life of unlimited travel. He wants to completely avoid all human associations - "nor a friend to know me."All that he wants to do is travel and travel from one place to another without any restraint whatsoever, not concerned about the weather or material wealth or possessions or anything else around him:
"Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me."
He would like to spend his entire life in the outdoors even in the cold autumn and winter months with the sky as his roof:
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!
Most importantly, he wishes for a completely carefree life and is not bothered or frightened about death at all:
Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me.
In the last stanza R.L. Stevenson reiterates what he has already emphasized in the earlier three stanzas, namely, all that he wants to do throughout his life is to travel and to travel till he drops dead.
In the second stanza the verb "seek" would mean 'to endeavor to obtain.' The action is voluntary, conscious and deliberate. He says that all that he will endeavor to obtain is a life of travel and travel only.
Whereas, in the last stanza "ask" would imply a prayer to God. All that he asks of or requests God is to give him a life of travel and travel only.
There are several ways by which you can teach this poem to your class, depending on the resources available to you:
1. If you have a laptop and a projector you can make a multimedia power point presentation complete with video and audio backup.
2. You can ask one of your students to imagine that he is a vagabond and enact the entire poem.
3. You can do a stylistic analysis explaining the stylistic devices R.L. Stevenson has used to foreground the joys of an outdoor life.
4. Alternatively you can analyse the poem using an eco- critical approach.
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