The book that I sent for yesterday arrived this afternoon – this printing of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” – all simple, inconsequential verses written upon children’s imaginings, fancies, and small joys. I wanted it to start reading to Wee Jamie – and I most especially wanted the version with the illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa, which was the edition that we had as children, and which was probably read to pieces by the time that the last of us were done with it. We all – even Mom – could recite whole verses out of it. I managed to locate a later edition to read to Blondie as a small child. That edition is probably out in the garage somewhere.

That book which I ordered, arrived late Thursday afternoon pristine, nicely casebound – all the poems and illustrations that I recalled … but the poem that I liked best is missing. I thumbed through it, looking for that specific verse; Travel – about adventuring in an awesomely wide world, and it was not there. Neither was the poem “Foreign Children”, about children living in other places, a poem which meditated most precisely on the wholly natural self-centeredness of children, and the smug assumption that where and how they live is entirely normal and expected, and everywhere else is strange and uncomfortable.

“You have curious things to eat,

I am fed on proper meat;

You must dwell upon the foam,

But I am safe and live at home.”

Yes, I can see how that verse and the rest would raise the hackles of the ostentatiously woke, although I think that the mild point about childish insularity which RLS was trying to make escaped the humor-impaired editors entirely. It also would appear that the reason for omitting “Travel” is the single mention of “negro hunter’s huts” in the verse describing jungles and the Nile River. It is a sad thing, though – to ‘disappear’ a couple of poems from a classic collection of story-poems for children from what many view as the late Victorian/Edwardian golden era of kid-lit. One wonders now, exactly how much else in our classic books for children and adults which at present can be viewed as problematic, is being quietly omitted in modern editions.

Just to make the point, and because I have always loved “Travel” – here is the entire poem:

I should like to rise and go

Where the golden apples grow;—

Where below another sky

Parrot islands anchored lie,

And, watched by cockatoos and goats,

Lonely Crusoes building boats;—

Where in sunshine reaching out

Eastern cities, miles about,

Are with mosque and minaret

Among sandy gardens set,

And the rich goods from near and far

Hang for sale in the bazaar,—

Where the Great Wall round China goes,

And on one side the desert blows,

And with bell and voice and drum

Cities on the other hum;—

Where are forests, hot as fire,

Wide as England, tall as a spire,

Full of apes and cocoa-nuts

And the negro hunters’ huts;—

Where the knotty crocodile

Lies and blinks in the Nile,

And the red flamingo flies

Hunting fish before his eyes;—

Where in jungles, near and far,

Man-devouring tigers are,

Lying close and giving ear

Lest the hunt be drawing near,

Or a comer-by be seen

Swinging in a palanquin;—

Where among the desert sands

Some deserted city stands,

All its children, sweep and prince,

Grown to manhood ages since,

Not a foot in street or house,

Not a stir of child or mouse,

And when kindly falls the night,

In all the town no spark of light.

There I’ll come when I’m a man

With a camel caravan;

Light a fire in the gloom

Of some dusty dining-room;

See the pictures on the walls,

Heroes, fights and festivals;

And in a corner find the toys

Of the old Egyptian boys.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting read…well done.. aka GrimHarvest