J. Patrick Pazdziora

‘Foreign Children’: Displacement in A Child’s Garden of Verses

Displacement is a unifying concept in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885). The poet recounts acts of play, imagination, and outright rebellion which disassociate the child from the notionally stable places of home and family. Miniaturization, in particular, creates child-sized places where the child can explore, or observe, or rest, without adult interference or instruction. The child dreams of growing little and sailing away in a toy boat, or tries to imagine the lives of children in other countries, or plays careless of observation ‘on the beach of Monterey.’

Stevenson’s letters during the years-long writing of the collection indicate he largely based the poems on his own memories of childhood; as such, he sought to write in a child’s voice. He ruthlessly revised his texts text to compress the many frustrations and anxieties of childhood into what he called the ‘imperfect’ speech and ‘open self-deception’ of children’s play. The resulting poems are elusive, persistent in omission and elision, laying significance on what is left unsaid. By assuming an identity as a ‘child of air’ and allying himself his child readers, Stevenson articulates a keen sense of displacement that anticipates his eventual departure from Scotland.

J.Patrick Pazdziora, University of Tokyo, Japan