Poetry for Travel

Robert Louis Stevenson by Girolamo Nerli (1892) from Wikipedia
Robert Louis Stevenson by Girolamo Nerli (1892) from Wikipedia

Destination: Tahiti

Poetry: To an Island Princess by  Robert Louis Stevenson

May is Poetry Month, so I went in search of some travel poetry.

I always read one of my childhood favorites, Robert Louis Stevenson’ In the Land of the Counterpane, when I was sick. His picture of a sick child playing on the bedcovers, reflected his own sickly childhood, and for many years he was mainly known as a children’s writer, but people rediscovered and now admire his work.

He wrote a tome entitled Songs of Travel, in some cases with notes about whose music they should be set to. The author of Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, and many other books, essays and poems, wandered far from his native Scotland. He traveled restlessly all his life, including  to the South Pacific, and below is one of his South Seas poems. You can download the whole, which is filled with late 19th century romanticism, at Project Gutenberg or find it set to music at other places on the web.

XXVIII – TO AN ISLAND PRINCESS

SINCE long ago, a child at home,

I read and longed to rise and roam,

Where’er I went, whate’er I willed,

One promised land my fancy filled.

Hence the long roads my home I made;

Tossed much in ships; have often laid

Below the uncurtained sky my head,

Rain-deluged and wind-buffeted:

And many a thousand hills I crossed

And corners turned – Love’s labour lost,

Till, Lady, to your isle of sun

I came, not hoping; and, like one

Snatched out of blindness, rubbed my eyes,

And hailed my promised land with cries.

Yes, Lady, here I was at last;

Here found I all I had forecast:

The long roll of the sapphire sea

That keeps the land’s virginity;

The stalwart giants of the wood

Laden with toys and flowers and food;

The precious forest pouring out

To compass the whole town about;

The town itself with streets of lawn,

Loved of the moon, blessed by the dawn,

Where the brown children all the day

Keep up a ceaseless noise of play,

Play in the sun, play in the rain,

Nor ever quarrel or complain; –

And late at night, in the woods of fruit,

Hark! do you hear the passing flute?

I threw one look to either hand,

And knew I was in Fairyland.

And yet one point of being so

I lacked.  For, Lady (as you know),

Whoever by his might of hand,

Won entrance into Fairyland,

Found always with admiring eyes

A Fairy princess kind and wise.

It was not long I waited; soon

Upon my threshold, in broad noon,

Gracious and helpful, wise and good,

The Fairy Princess Moe stood.

Tantira, Tahiti, Nov. 5, 1888.

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Do you have a favorite poem of travel? Please share with us during Poetry Month.

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

2 thoughts on “Poetry for Travel

  1. Robert Burns, My Heart’s in the Highlands, for one.

    Two others come to mind for me, The Song of Wandering Aengus by Willima Butler Yeats [“when I am old with wandering/ through hollow lands and hilly lands…”] and The Singer’s House by Seamus Heaney [“When they said Carrickfergus I could hear/the frosty echo of saltminers’ picks…”]. In both cases the connection with travel is a bit indirect, but is is there nonetheless.

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