A Child’s Garden of Verses Contents
I. Bed in Summer; II. A Thought; III. At the Sea-Side; IV. Young Night-Thought; V. Whole Duty of Children; VI. Rain; VII. Pirate Story; VIII. Foreign Lands; IX. Windy Nights; X. Travel; XI. Singing; XII. Looking Forward; XIII. A Good Play; XIV. Where Go the Boats?; XV. Auntie’s Skirts; XVI. The Land of Counterpane; XVII. The Land of Nod; XVIII. My Shadow; XIX. System; XX. A Good Boy; XXI. Escape at Bedtime; XXII. Marching Song; XXIII. The Cow;
XXIV. The Happy Thought; XXV. The Wind; XXVI. Keepsake Mill; XXVII. Good and Bad Children; XXVIII. Foreign Children; XXIX. The Sun Travels; XXX. The Lamplighter; XXXI. My Bed is a Boat; XXXII. The Moon; XXXIII. The Swing; XXXIV. Time to Rise; XXXV. Looking-Glass River; XXXVI. Fairy Bread; XXXVII. From a Railway Carriage; XXXVIII. Winter-Time; XXXIX. The Hayloft; XL. Farewell to the Farm; XLI North-West Passage: 1. Good-Night, 2. Shadow March, 3. In Port
The Child Alone: I. The Unseen Playmate; II. My Ship and I; III. My Kingdom; IV. Picture-Books in Winter; V. My Treasures; VI. Block City; VII. The Land of Story-Books; VIII. Armies in the Fire; IX. The Little Land
Garden Days: I. Night and Day; II. Nest Eggs; III. The Flowers; IV. Summer Sun; V. The Dumb Soldier; VI. Autumn Fires; VII. The Gardener; VIII. Historical Associations
Envoys: I. To Willie and Henrietta; II. To My Mother; III. To Auntie; IV. To Minnie; V. To My Name-Child; VI. To Any Reader
A Child’s Garden of Verses is a book of poetry for children. Stevenson dedicated the poems to his nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham), who cared for him during his many childhood illnesses. The collection includes some of Stevenson’s most famous poems, including “The Land of Counterpane”, “My Shadow and “The Lamplighter”.
Many of the poems describe the imaginative life of the child. In “Pirate Story”, for example, the garden becomes the setting for pirate adventure. “The Land of Nod” describes the dream land that children can only visit when they are asleep.
Some of the poems, particularly those in “The Child Alone” section evoke the loneliness of being young, ill and without companions (certainly Stevenson was here remembering his own childhood). Children in these poems (for example “The Unseen Playmate”. “My Ship and I”, and “My Kingdom”) use their imaginations to entertain themselves, rather than the company of a friend.
Poems in the “Garden Days” section of the collection are concerned with nature and the seasons. Other poems in the book are moral reminders to children. For example, “Good and Bad Children” warns that children who behave badly will be disliked as adults.
The “Envoys” section of poetry consists of poems dedicated to Stevenson’s friends and family, particularly those who he spent time with at Colinton Manse when he was a child. His experiences at the manse playing in the garden inspired many of the poems in the collection.
In the last poem of the collection, “To Any Reader”, Stevenson reminds his readers that all children eventually grow up, and that these poems are memories of a time that has past. This poem also serves to show that A Child’s Garden of Verses is not just a book for children, but addresses adult themes like loss and loneliness.
TO ANY READER
As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far ways,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.
(from A Child’s Garden of Verses, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol xiv [London: Chatto and Windus, 1911], p. 59.)
Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina