Songs Of Travel "Glory Of Youth Glowed In His Soul"

Robert Louis Stevenson

"Glory Of Youth Glowed In His Soul"

Context: Robert Louis Stevenson was a gay and radiant personality whose whole life was a courageous battle for health. Scottish by birth, Stevenson was a novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and poet; today he is best known for his tales of adventure and for A Child's Garden of Verses. The sense of adventure was keen in Stevenson and helped him through his illnesses, though it was at the same time a contributing factor to them. Suffering in 1873 from exhaustion, he spent some time in southern Europe; while there he met an American lady, Mrs. Osbourne. She was unhappily married. When Stevenson learned in 1879 that she was obtaining a divorce, he went to America to see her. He had little money, and the trip to California further undermined his health. He married Mrs. Osbourne and they returned to England in 1880. His physical condition was poor; he had tuberculosis and was subject to severe hemorrhages. When he wrote A Child's Garden of Verses he was confined to his bed; his right arm was strapped to his side to lessen the danger of hemorrhage, and an eye infection made total darkness necessary. The poems were written with his left hand on large sheets of paper tacked to a board which he had arranged above him. His father died in 1887; he and his wife then moved to America, residing first at Saranac Lake and then at San Francisco. He spent the next few years roaming the South Seas, and settled at Samoa, where he remained until his death. Death was always an imminent possibility to Stevenson, and he was on intimate terms with it. Though he was always outwardly cheerful, an inevitable melancholy must have lurked in him much of the time; it is quite apparent in Songs of Travel, a group of poems written mostly in the South Seas between 1888 and 1894. One of these, untitled, speaks for itself:

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Egg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?
. . .
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that's gone!
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.