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Featured Poem: The Land of Story Books by Robert Louis Stevenson

Written by Rachael Norris, 16th March 2020

This week's Featured Poem is The Land of Story Books by Robert Louis Stevenson, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader Katie Clark.

I love the way this poem describes the magical imaginative world that reading transports us to.

The setting feels cosy, in a home ‘At evening when the lamp is lit’ and the family are gathered together in the same room. The imaginary book world merges with solid objects around him ‘follow round the forest track/behind the sofa back.’ Yet, I’m interested in the idea of solitude within this Land. It seems important that the writer is ‘where none can spy’, and that there is a distance, ‘I see the others far away.’

The imaginative wandering feels secret and private. Though he is physically in the room with his parents, he is alone in his adventuring. It seems part of the inner life, independent of adults around him. Does that feel lonely, or exhilarating?

It makes me wonder about the parents, who remain very much in the background, in black and white, while the Land of Story Books takes on colour and vibrancy. Though they ‘talk and sing’ they ‘do not play at anything’. When and why does ‘play’ stop for us? Is there a way that we can keep it alive in adulthood? Is it possible to still be transported to this land through words and reading?

It makes me think about ways that adults can also ‘play at books that I have read’, both as we reflect back on books we loved as children (who hasn’t tried climbing into a wardrobe and feeling the back to see if they feel solid wood or snow-covered branches?) and the books that we are reading right now.

I linger over that line about the ‘backward looks’ as he goes off to bed. Is there regret at leaving that land I wonder? And yet he uses the word ‘home’, as if there is a sense of belonging and comfort in returning. Then my eyes return to ‘my dear land of story-books’ and I feel the pull, the struggle between the two identities, real and imaginary, maybe…but both equally important and valid to this young reader.

The Land of Story-books

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter's camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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