What is the meaning of the lines "Or let autumn fall on me / Where afield I linger, / Silencing the bird on tree, / Biting the blue finger"?

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tonithib eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These lines are from “The Vagabond,” a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson and included in a collection of other poems he wrote entitled Songs of Travel. “The Vagabond” is about a life of wandering and travel. The poet asks only for “the jolly heaven above / And the byway nigh me.” He desires neither hearth nor home, but only the sky above him and the road beneath his feet.

In these particular lines, the poet is emphatic in his desire to wander, come what may, even in the harsher seasons. He says to go ahead and “let autumn fall on me / Where afield I linger.” He will wander, even when autumn begins to fall, signaling the harshness of the winter to come; even so, he will be lingering in the fields, in the open, with no habitation but the sky and road and fields. Not only does the onset of autumn signal the coming of winter, it also succeeds in “silencing the bird on tree.” In the autumn, even the birds succumb to the weather and seek warmer climes. Even when the birds take flight and their very songs are taken away from him, the poet will still linger in the meadows and “the frosty field.” Even as the poet remembers the “warm . . . fireside haven,” he still insists, “not to autumn will I yield, / Not to winter even!”

As far as the line “Biting the blue finger,” Stevenson could be referring to the cold fingers of frostbite in the winter turning blue. The term may possibly be a lost Scottish idiom, but as far as I have researched, I cannot find any evidence of that.

Robert Louis Stevenson, a nineteenth century novelist, poet, and essayist, was a prolific writer and a consummate wanderer. Due to ill health from childhood lung and respiratory issues thought to be tuberculosis, Stevenson traveled the world, a vagabond of sorts, attempting to find a climate that might soothe his health. He ultimately settled in Samoa, where he died, and was buried, in 1894.

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The Vagabond

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