Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Robert Louis Stevenson and Langston Hughes: Two points of view


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 the sea,
     And the hunter home from the hill.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson --

Death of an Old Seaman

We buried him high on a windy hill,
But his soul went out to sea.
I know, for I heard, when all was still,
His sea-soul say to me:

Put no tombstone at my head,
For here I do not make my bed.
Strew no flowers on my grave,
I've gone back to the wind and wave.
Do not, do not weep for me,
For I am happy with my sea.

-- Langston Hughes --
from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Arnold Rampersad, Editor

It almost seems as though Hughes' poem is a response to Stevenson's.  Some days I'm with Stevenson, but on other days, well, Hughes seems right for me.  Actually I'm of two minds here: both seem right and fitting when I read them. 


  1. I had not realized the source of the famous couplet in Stevenson's poem. As for comparing the two poems, I prefer the style and form of the Hughes; he seems more competent with his diction, rhythm, and rhyme. As for comparing the sentiments -- if that is the appropriate word -- I see no large difference between the two. Both seem to "argue" an acceptance of death, and I am envious of that acceptance. But the bottom line is this: I'm glad you shared the two poems. They have reminded me -- now having lived nearly 70 years -- that I need to become more comfortable with the unacceptable, inevitable death that awaits in the not far distant future.

  2. RT,

    I was browsing through the collection of poems by Hughes when I encountered this one. It immediately reminded me of RLS' poem. In fact, I wondered if it had been a direct response to the earlier poem.

    Yes, both demonstrate acceptance of death, much like Emily Dickinson. The difference is that Hughes portrays a more active sort of acceptance while RLS focuses on the theme of rest. For RLS, home for the sailor is the grave while Hughes has the sailor's soul return to the sea.

    I also considered including Dylan Thomas "Do not go gentle. . ." but decided it really didn't fit the mood of the other two.