Let’s begin the year with a youthful favourite. I felt very emotional on the day I stood outside R.L. Stevenson’s childhood home in Edinburgh and saw the old lamppost on the street, the very one which Stevenson watched being lit when a boy. There are words from the poem on the post. It’s just so special!
The Lamplighter by Robert Louis Stevenson
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
Oh Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!
The poem was published in his 1885 collection A Child’s Garden of Verses. In 1881 Stevenson published an essay A Plea for Gas Lamps – he preferred their soft glow to the glare of electric lights. His poem captures so brilliantly the child’s world – he doesn’t want to be a banker like father, he wants freedom and the adventure of walking the streets. Stevenson was a sickly child and had to spend many hours in bed. As a young boy, he has no choice, but he can dream of future choices as well as strength and health.
You can listen to the poem being read here:
And there is a musical version of it here: