A Childs Garden of Verses by Robert Louis StevensonEverything was grey. There wasnt any colour. It was all up to my imagination.”
Brian Wildsmith, artist, on his childhood.
Image: Summer Sun
This review is an excuse to share some of the startling and colourful illustrations that Wildsmith crafted for this 1966 edition (words here). A truly wild smith. I can’t imagine what Robert Louis Stevenson would make of them, but I hope he would appreciate the edge they give to his words.
Image: The Cow
The poem leaves me cold, but the happy cow in her bucolic meadow, I love.
The poems are mostly delightful. Many are familiar from repetition in my childhood, then to my child. We had plenty of other books of rhymes, but it was primarily the extravagant illustrations that drew me repeatedly to the pages, and the words I learned so well.
Image: The Land of the Counterpane
I think this made me something of a hypochondriac as a child - though I’m quite the reverse as an adult.
When I’ve seen modern editions, they’re invariably illustrated with competent, sometimes lovely pictures, but theyre safe and predictable. Just what you expect for a cosy Victorian classic.
Image: Armies in the Fire
I loved pareidolia long before I knew there was a word for it; perhaps this is why?
I think the dissonance of Wildsmith’s pictures and Stevensons verses add the vibrant joy and confusing kaleidoscope of childhood, and sometimes add modern relevance to the words themselves.
Image: Whole Duty of Children
A dry Victorian instruction with a subversive twist.
The child is always clearly recognisable, a character to identify with, but the backgrounds are often more abstract. There are echoes of Klimt, Turner, Miro, and Matisse, yet they are very much Wildsmith’s own.
Image: Looking-Glass River
An example where the words do little for me, but the picture is lush.
I was a tomboy, who loved cars, tractors, and trains. This was my favourite poem, and as an adult, I think the words, rhythm, and imagery are superb. You cant read it slowly, nor should you:
Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!
Image: From a Railway Carriage
Then I went to Tate Britain for the first of many times (probably around seven years old) and saw this. The two are forever, happily, linked in my mind:
Image: Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway, by JMW Turner
See Teds excellent review, HERE, which is what prompted me to get out my copy and post this.
All the poems are free on Gutenberg, HERE.
The Wind - Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
Copyright by The Bibliophile Society All rights reserved. The Bibliophile Society desires to acknowledge its obligations to Mr. Francis S. Peabody for his generosity in permitting it to print the Robert Louis Stevenson manuscripts for its members, and as a token of gratitude and appreciation, has issued this small complimentary edition from the same type forms from which the Bibliophile edition was printed. Life's winds and billows, hoarse and shrill, Could ne'er his minstrel-ardor still; He sailed and piped until his breath Went out within the grip of death; And now, upon his island home, Fringed with the far Pacific foam, He lies at peace, beloved, renowned The sympathetic world around.
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Portrayals of Stevenson in fiction, film and poetry. The Amazing Marriage. There was a man who wrote books. I forget his name, in the yacht Casco. In Masson, Rosaline
Though he that ever kind and true Kept stoutly step by step with you Your whole long gusty lifetime through, Be gone awhile before, Be now a moment gone before, Yet, doubt not, soon the seasons shall restore Your friend to you. He has but turned a corner. Still He pushes on with right good will, Through mire and marsh, by heugh and hill, That self-same arduous way, That self-same upland, hopeful way That you and he through many a doubtful day Attempted still. He is not dead, this friend — not dead, But in the path we mortals tread Got some few trifling steps ahead And nearer to the end; So that you too, once past the bend, Shall meet again, as face to face, this friend You fancy dead. Push gaily on, strong heart!