The Vagabond by  Robert Louis Stevenson

Summary of the poem

The poem “The Vagabond” by R. L. Stevenson represents the kind of life the poet would like to live. All the narrator wants is to live a natural existence surrounded by heaven, land, birds, and the river. The poet recounts the carefree existence of a traveller who desires nothing of this world’s joys — fortune, hope, love, or companionship. He only wants heaven above and the road below him so he can keep going, with no regard for the creature comforts of life. Nothing can dampen his roaming spirit. He mentions the hard conditions of autumn and winter, but argues that this will not deter him from his desire to be on the road. He repeats what he said in the second verse, that he knows he would die sooner or later, but all he wants to do is live his life on the road, with heaven above and the road below.

Critical Analysis of  “The Vagabond”

The Vagabond (Collected from Songs of Travel) by Robert Louis Stevenson celebrates the wonderful freedom and independence of a tramp’s life. The Vagabond’s four stanzas underscore the unrestricted joys of an independent life in the outdoors free of all its problems.

Stevenson begins the poem by requesting that he be given the life he desires. Then he depicts life on the road, including camping in the open and bathing in the river. As a poet, Stevenson appeals to and aspires to live the sort of life he enjoys, to let the lave: to wash; bathe, to flow along or against as though washing. He want just the joyous heaven above and the dry bread that he can dip in the river’s waters to eat whenever he becomes hungry. For there is a life for a man like him, and there is eternal life:

“Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river –
There’s the life for a man like me,
There’s the life for ever.”

The vagabond is only interested in a life of unrestricted travel. He wishes to avoid all human contact – “nor a friend to know me.” All he wants to do is go from one area to another without regard for the weather, material wealth, possessions, or anything else around him. Let the blow of death strike on him soon or late, and whatever comes over him will come over him. The face of the world surrounding him and the route ahead of him are just what he needs. He does not want prosperity, hope, or love, nor does he seek a companion to know him; all he seeks is the heaven above and the path beneath him:

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“Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.”

In the next stanza, he says he knows he will die sooner or later, yet he wishes for a life on the road. Most significantly, he wishes for a perfectly carefree life and is not disturbed or afraid of death in the least. He claims he does not need money or friends:

“Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o’er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.”

In the next stanza, he speaks of the difficult conditions of autumn and winter, but vows that he will not be deterred from his desire to be on the road. He wishes to live his entire life outside, even during the cold fall and winter months, with the sky as his roof. Or let the autumn: here denoting the start of old age: fall on him, where afield: in or to the field, afar abroad, off the pathway, astray: he lingers, where the cold autumn wind silences the bird on the tree, while he chews the cold blue finger. The frozen field is as white as a feast, and the fire-side sanctuary is toasty. But not to fall, and not even to winter, will he succumb. He is ready for death at any time, and he knows what his fate will be:

“Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field –
Warm the fireside haven –
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!” 

In the final stanza, he reiterates what he said in the second stanza: he knows he will die sooner or later, but all he wants is to live his life on the road as he sees fit, with heaven above and the road below. The world is large enough for his house and the path he will take. He has no desire for the materialism of this world, nor does he want a buddy to share such worldly prosperity. All he desires is a spot in paradise and the path he must take to get there:

“Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o’er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.”

To summarise, the vagabond players of the natural world are among the oldest constantly operating small beauties in human history. Major performing artists revolve on a wandering life in close contact to nature, and Robert Louis Stevenson promotes the same idea in his poem, The Vagabond.


Important Questions and Answers


1. Who is a vagabond?
Ans: A vagabond is someone who travels from place to place without a fixed address or a job.

2. What kind of life does the vagabond want?
Ans: The vagabond wants a life of love in close contact with nature.

3. Where does the vagabond spend his night?
Ans: The vagabond spends his night in the bushes, looking up at the starry sky.

4. How does the poet describe autumn?
Ans: Autumn is shown as a difficult time for the wanderer, a period when silence falls because the weather is so severe that the birds are no longer singing, his fingers turn blue from the cold, and the fields are snowy and white.

5. Why does the poet choose to be a vagabond?
Ans: The poet decides to be a vagabond since he enjoys complete independence. It is his carefree life as a nomad that makes him happy.

6. Why does the poet repeat the second stanza of the poem?
Ans: The poet repeats the second stanza to stress the vagabond’s deep feeling. It also demonstrates the poet’s intense desire to live a carefree life devoid of fear of death.

7. What message does the poet want to give through the poem?
Ans: The poet wishes to convey the message that once a man hears nature’s overwhelming call, he cannot help but listen to it. Nature has captured him under her spell, rendering all earthly luxuries useless to him.
     

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8. What is the main idea of the poem ‘The Vagabond’?
Ans: The Vagabond, a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, celebrates the delightful freedom and independence of a tramp’s life. All four stanzas underline the unrestricted joys of an autonomous life in the outdoors free of all responsibilities.

9. What is the tone of the poem The Vagabond?
Ans: The tone of a poem is lighthearted, hilarious, or anything else—and it can shift throughout the poem. The tone of a poem is usually determined by the “vibes” that the reader feels as he reads it. Stevenson’s atmosphere is tinted with desire, energy, and excitement in this poem.

10. What kind of imagery does The Vagabond evoke when he talks of his ideal life?
Ans: He conjures up thoughts of brilliant skies, starry evenings, dipping bread in the river, a long, winding road, autumn leaves dropping, large open fields covered in leaves in autumn and snow in winter, and a campfire in a lonely hut.

11. What is the meaning of let the lave go by me?
Ans: “Give me the life I love /Let the lave go by me” means give me the kind of life I love to live and let the rest of the world pass me by.

12. What are the difficulties that The Vagabond may have to face while living in the open?
Ans: The poem mentions the difficult conditions that a vagabond may experience when living in the open during the autumn and winter seasons. However, the poet goes on to say that even these hard conditions will not deter a wanderer from living in the open because all he desires is freedom above all else.

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