A Child’s Garden of Verses
By R. L. Stevenson
When I was asked which was my favourite poetry book of all time, there was no hesitation. Without a doubt, it was and always will be, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. My copy is over forty years old, a little worn in the corners but very much loved, and very well-travelled, having taken it with me when I lived overseas as I didn’t want to leave it behind.
It was bought with Christmas holiday money when I was a young child and has been treasured ever since. I owe my love of poetry to my standard four teacher Miss Leggat, who shared with the class classic poems such as Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Silver by Walter de la Mare. They were poems where we learnt to listen to the rhythm and magic of their stories and it was that rhythm I found in this collection of poems, that makes it still so wonderful today.
While first published in 1885 and perhaps a bit dated for some today, the collection still stands the test of time as the book continues to be published in different versions. The poem From a Railway Carriage stands out as a wonderful example of how rhythm can create a sense of being there and experiencing what the poet is experiencing.
A young boy watches out from the carriage of a train and shares idyllic images as he travels through the countryside.
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches; …
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain
I love how we can hear the sound of the train as it rumbles over the tracks. It is of course a poem that needs to be read aloud, although all poems by default, should be read aloud.
The poems are charming, a little sentimental and very nostalgic for the innocent days of childhood.
Everyday poems about shadows, having to go to bed even when the sun is still up, the wind and so much more. R.L. Stevenson found happiness in the everyday things and considering he spent much of his childhood ill in bed, this was a wonderful quality to have. It is also why this simple, very short poem stands out. Not brilliant, but the idea that we can find happiness anywhere and be grateful is a lovely concept.
The world is so full
Of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all
Be happy as kings.
The illustrations in my 1972 edition are by Eve Garnett and are simply gorgeous. I completely fell in love with them. They are simple line drawings yet they express so much warmth and emotion.
Whether it is a romantic view of the past, wonderful poems, or wonderful memories of sitting on my bed reading this book at night, I’m sure of one thing. This particular book is a real treasure.