Me and my shadows

A palimpsest is something that bears visible traces of an earlier form, just like a shadow.

Robert Louis Stevenson published A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles. A collection of poetry for children about remembering, darkness, and solitude, it has been reprinted many times, often in illustrated versions.

Stevenson dedicated the poems to his nurse Alison Cunningham – “For the long nights you lay awake and watched for my unworthy sake” – who cared for him during his many childhood illnesses. The collection contains some of Stevenson’s most famous poems, including “The Land of Counterpane”, “My Shadow”, and “The Lamplighter”.

In the last poem of the collection, “To Any Reader”, Stevenson conjectures that while the poems are memories of times past, the reader’s children share the same childhood experiences and feelings.

“My Shadow”

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.”



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