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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson
“Splendid Eyes” in Spite of …

Of Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain once said,

He was most scantily furnished with flesh, his clothes seemed to fall into hollows as if there might be nothing inside but the frame for a sculpture’s statue. His long face and lank hair and dark complexion and musing and melancholy expression seemed to fit these details justly and harmoniously and the altogether of it seemed especially planned to gather the rays of your observation and focalize them upon Stevenson’s special distinction and commanding feature, his splendid eyes. They burned with a smoldering rich fire under the pent-house of his brows, and they made him beautiful (An Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. I, p. 54, 2010).

From the difficulties and tragedies of Stevenson’s life comes his light-hearted:

O how I love to go up in the swing

            Up in the sky so blue.

O how I think it the pleasantest thing

            Even a child can do.

Up in the air and over the trees,

            Til I can see so wide.

Rivers and trees and cattle and all,

            Over the countryside.

Then I look down on the garden green

            Down on the roof so brown.

Up in the air I go flying again,

            Up in the air and down.

 On the other hand, perhaps the childlike touch in this poem touches the deeper chord of adult awareness – up and down, scanning the landscape of multiple colors, shapes and conditions, from a roof-top to a rolling countryside to a flowing river. The inclusive nature of the views he encompasses offers a broad view, one of life and of journey; of adventure and of staying put. His brief verse rhymes a lifetime of beauty, of blue sky and calm reflection, while recognizing the expanse of choices, of places, of conditions …

From these “splendid eyes” and broader tragic life, from a man beset with illness and weighted down in poverty, words from a childhood swing, a settled yet growing awareness of life’s lovely potential, in spite of …