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.