In "The Vagabond," why do you think Robert Louis Stevenson repeats the lines "all I ask, the heaven above/ and the road below me" in the second and fourth verses?

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tonithib eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These particular lines are from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem entitled “The Vagabond” which is included in a collection of poetry called Songs of Travel and Other Verses. A vagabond is one who travels, one who wanders, without the benefit of a stable home. Stevenson, in this poem, asks for the life of a vagabond or wanderer. He is asking for only “the heaven above and the road below me.” His desire is not to have a stable home, but to have the sky above him and road beneath him on which to walk. The first lines of the poem say, “Give to me the life I love,” the life of a wanderer, and “Give the jolly heaven above/And the byway nigh me.” This is the same sentiment as asking for the sky or “heaven” above and the “road” or “byway” beneath. His home, his place, is to wander, with sky above and road below, on which he continues his wandering. It replaces the home he does not have. If you examine the rest of the poem, you will see many other references to the life of a wanderer.

Robert Louis Stevenson, nineteenth century poet, novelist, and essayist, was, himself, a wanderer of sorts. Due to ill health, he moved from place to place, far from him native Scotland, attempting to find some relief from his condition. He finally settled on the island of Samoa, where he died, and was buried, in 1894.

tonithib eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to my first answer, I would like to offer a further explanation about Robert Louis Stevenson's health. From childhood, Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from poor health in which he was subject to bouts of fever and cough, leaving him frail, sickly, and thin. At the time, people thought he suffered from tuberculosis, but modern medical speculation suggests he may have had some other form of chronic respiratory disease. The recurring illnesses were exacerbated by wet, chilly weather, which occurred especially in the winter months. Stevenson continued to battle illness throughout his life, seeking milder climes in order to find relief, which made him a “vagabond” of sorts. The poem “Vagabond” from his collection of poetry, Songs of Travel and Other Verses, romanticizes the wandering life.

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The Vagabond

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