Saturday, May 15, 2010

Poem: Robert Louis Stevenson

Watching Jessica Watson on TV arrive home on Saturday afternoon, I was struck by some of the first words spoken to her by her mother after she stepped ashore:  “Home is the sailor home from the sea.”  The irony of that comment upon Jessica Watson’s homecoming is that the words come from a poem that is a requiem, a death poem.

The work is actually called Requiem and was written in 1879 by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Stevenson was a sickly man for the whole of his life and suffered from tuberculosis, dying of a cerebral haemorrhage. Stevenson spent his last five years on the island of Samoa as a planter and chief of the natives. Requiem was penned at a time when he was ill, distraught and close to death.  The poem is engraved on his tombstone in Samoa:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
 Stevenson with his wife and household in Samoa - click on picture to enlarge.

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