Why does the poet repeat the lines " All I ask the heaven above/And the road below me," in the second and fourth verses? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Robert Louis Stevenson uses these lines as a refrain in "The Vagabond " in order to not only emphasize his innermost desire, but also to show the satisfaction of that desire realized. The lines first appear in the second stanza, and read "All I seek, the heaven above /...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Robert Louis Stevenson uses these lines as a refrain in "The Vagabond" in order to not only emphasize his innermost desire, but also to show the satisfaction of that desire realized. The lines first appear in the second stanza, and read "All I seek, the heaven above / And the road below me." However, when they reappear, they read "All I ask, the heaven above. / And the road below me." This subtle shift shows that the narrator's position has shifted, and that they no longer "seek" heaven above and earth below, but they now simply ask to maintain them. Part of this shift is due to the progress that takes place in the third stanza. Unlike the first stanza, where the narrator's focus is on larger aspects of nature such as "heaven," "night," "bush," and "river," the third stanza's focus narrows to more specific things:

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger;
White as meal the frosty field—
Warn the fireside haven—Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!

Here the focus on "bird," "finger," and "haven" allows the narrator to see that the things they desire, simplicity and nature, are all around them already. This allows for the shift that takes place in the refrain as the narrator realizes, as Stevenson's near-contemporary Thoreau said: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team