What is meant by the expression "biting the blue finger" in "The Vagabond"?

In the poem "The Vagabond" by Robert Louis Stevenson, the poet uses the metaphor "biting the blue finger" to refer to the extraordinary coldness of winter, which produces the skin to turn blue upon overexposure to the "biting" (intense) chill.

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The poem "The Vagabond" by Robert Louis Stevenson is a celebration of freedom, nature, and life. It focuses on someone who chooses to live life with total freedom in aims of enjoying all that surrounds him.

Stevenson celebrates and admires all aspects of nature in this poem, but...

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The poem "The Vagabond" by Robert Louis Stevenson is a celebration of freedom, nature, and life. It focuses on someone who chooses to live life with total freedom in aims of enjoying all that surrounds him.

Stevenson celebrates and admires all aspects of nature in this poem, but the vagabond is adamant in that the way to enjoy life and nature is best done in solitude:

Bed in the bush with stars to see,

Bread I dip in the river

There's the life for a man like me,

There's the life for ever.

At one point, the poet talks about the transition from fall to winter. Let's take a second to point out that Robert Louis Stevenson is Scottish, and winters in Britain during the nineteenth century must have been particularly brutal. Without the benefits of modern heating, and even without the benefit of a chimney, a fire pit, or any type of protection from the coldness, a Victorian reader would have laughed at the idea of a vagabond admiring nature during the winter season.

However, Stevenson is adamant in his admiration and says:

Or let the autumn fall on me

Where afield I linger

Silencing the bird on tree,

Biting the blue finger.

Here, Stevenson uses synecdoche when referring to the finger, which is only a part of the entire body, as if it were the whole of it. This figure of expression is used to have one part of a thing represent its whole. We know that with intense coldness the entire body may turn blueish, not just the fingers, but this is part of the metaphor.

Essentially, Stevenson is challenging the notion of fall or winter stopping him from admiring everything that he loves about nature. The vagabond will not stop his wandering and his admiration.

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