Poetry: R.L. Stevenson

Here are two poems by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The second is perhaps his most famous, and the first was brought to my attention by Prof. Brownlow in connection with my talk on liberty and property.  He also gave me the link to a performance by Sir Thomas Allen of a setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Whither Must I Wander?

Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather:
Thick drives the rain and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree,
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door—
Dear days of old with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.
Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.
Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moorfowl,
Spring shall bring the sun and rain, bring the bees and flowers;
Red shall the heather bloom over hill and valley,
Soft flow the stream through the even-flowing hours.
Fair the day shine as it shone on my childhood—
Fair shine the day on the house with open door;
Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney—
But I go for ever and come again no more.


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 sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

8 Responses

  1. Dot says:

    Thank you for posting this beautiful song by Thomas Allen – Whither Must I Wander. No more will I see my old home where I grew up with my grandparents and parents. But I have the memory of my grandmother (my Vavoa) always greeting me with a blessing in Portuguese and I answering in kind.

  2. Patrick Kinnell says:

    Beautiful, both the poem and the performance by Sir Thomas Allen. And Ralph Vaughn Williams surely knew how arrange the traditional tunes.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I am only slightly familiar with Allen, who distinguished himself in many baritone roles in opera. Perhaps it is just me, but I find his mellow voice–somewhere between the upper registers of the cello and the mid range of the viola–typically English. We all ought to be thanking Prof. Brownlow for reminding me of the poem and sending me the link. I invite others to do likewise. I am sometimes too busy to attend to business, so, if you do not see your poem posted in a week, please remind me.

  4. David Wihowski says:

    Allen does an excellent job handling Vaughan Williams “simple” setting. As a musician, the simplest music can be the most difficult to perform, since even tiny flaws are very evident. Allen and the orchestra are careful not to over-romanticize and Allen’s vocal control is near perfection.

    I did a research project in my college days (back when everything was limited by what was available in card catalogs, the massive Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and pouring over whatever music scores your library had available) on the intersection of art song and English poetry, I don’t remember encountering this gem, and am glad that I have now.

  5. Frank Brownlow says:

    For those who might be interested, Vaughan Williams’s whole set, “Songs of Travel,” is worth hearing. There’s a performance, with piano accompaniment, by another fine baritone, John Shirley-Quirk, also on YouTube, I think.

  6. Jacob Johnson says:

    Thank you for the recommendation. Vaughn Williams always takes the mind away from the scene of pepsi cola signs and trash everywhere.

  7. Lewis Bell says:

    Thank you so much for these two poems and performance. I am no expert, but I recommend “Randall, My Son” by Donald Davidson (one of the Nashville Agrarians). Also his justly famous “Lee in the Mountains”.

  8. Robert Reavis says:

    This is a beautiful poem. In the 60s Stevenson began to be ignored in the anthologies and excluded entirely in the 70s going forward. To understand why is to understand a lot—— about a lot of things, the loss of poetry, the last generations of Calvinism and our decline in many other fields that sustain culture. He is definitely worth a close look too as to why his children’s verse and great gift for stories never went completely out of style.
    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 sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.