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Requiem -- Robert Louis Stevenson

(Poem #20) Requiem
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 sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
This poem more or less speaks for itself; it was inscribed on Stevenson's
gravestone as an epitaph. RLS is a lot better known for his marvellous
romances, such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped; though I'd hesitate to
call his poetry 'brilliant', it is nonetheless well-written and enjoyable,
with simple but nicely rhythmic and often surprisingly memorable phrases.

The penultimate line is often given as 'home from _the_ sea'; while I have
no idea which is the correct version, I prefer the one above.

Biographical Note:

  [Stevenson] had shown a desire to write early in life, and once in his
  teens he had deliberately set out to learn the writer's craft by imitating
  a great variety of models in prose and verse. His youthful enthusiasm for
  the Covenanters (i.e., those Scotsmen who banded together to defend their
  version of Presbyterianism in the 17th century) led to his writing The
  Pentland Rising, his first printed work. During his years at the
  university he rebelled against his parents' religion and set himself up as
  a liberal bohemian who abhorred the alleged cruelties and hypocrisies of
  bourgeois respectability.
  Stevenson was frequently abroad, most often in France. Two of his journeys
  produced An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
  (1879). His career as a writer developed slowly.
  It was these early essays, carefully wrought, quizzically meditative in
  tone, and unusual in sensibility, that first drew attention to Stevenson
  as a writer.
        -- Encyclopaedia Britannica


  Stevenson's literary reputation has also fluctuated. The reaction against
  him set in soon after his death: he was considered a mannered and
  imitative essayist or only a writer of children's books. But eventually
  the pendulum began to swing the other way, and by the 1950s his reputation
  was established among the more discerning as a writer of originality and
  power; whose essays at their best are cogent and perceptive renderings of
  aspects of the human condition; whose novels are either brilliant
  adventure stories with subtle moral overtones or original and impressive
  presentations of human action in terms of history and topography as well
  as psychology; whose short stories produce some new and effective
  permutations in the relation between romance and irony or manage to
  combine horror and suspense with moral diagnosis; whose poems, though not
  showing the highest poetic genius, are often skillful, occasionally (in
  his use of Scots, for example) interesting and original, and sometimes (in
  A Child's Garden) valuable for their exhibition of a special kind of
        -- E.B.


47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sodergren Ted said...

First, a confession. I first read this poem in the epic book Battle Cry. I
was moved by the poem in that context. No apologies.

As I've lived more life, I've understood this poem more and liked it better.
It almost becomes a creed.

At any rate, it's a life summary that serves well. Serves Stevenson well, I
believe, at his grave in the Pacific.

Enough for me.


Robert A. Downie said...

I fell in love with this poem around the age of 14. It has remained
with me for 40 years. RD

Tony Heathcote said...

I have known and liked this poem for many years.I do not think that R.L.Stevenson,or any-one of his time would have written:"Home from sea".the idea of eliminating the definate article;''the'' is a very recent thing.I have mainly noticed it among workers on radio stationsand do not recall seeing it in the newspapers that I read.According to a radio report that I heard it was started by radio people because they were sending a lot of emails and started dropping ''the'' from their emails.The poor things didn't seem to have the mental capacity to just use it in emails,they started to use it in their conversations.That is in contrast to their predecessors, before the age of sattelites and mobile phones.In those days messages were sent by telegrams over telegraph wires in morse code.The messages cost x amount per word,so people,especially reporters would eliminate words such as ''the'',and many others, to reduce costs.The telegraph operators would be sending those messages all day but they never dropped ''the",etc from their daily conversations.Their brains had no difficulty in separating message language from rest.I say again,R L Stevenson would not have written:"Home from sea".

Erroll Bingley said...

what a beautiful sentiment. it quites my sole. my lifelong fears of death is gone from my worldly thoughts. i can now give up the spirit of my departed fellows to a better place, where we may again climb the hill of friendship together in an ever lasting spirit that will live on forever.
thank you Robert L.Stevenson for this work.

Erroll Bingley

eeroger said...

I, too, fell in love with this poem as a boy. Saying so much with such simplicity has always grabbed me.
Elbert E. Rogers

Paul Greenhow said...

In the debate about the penultimate line, it doesn't appear that anybody
has considered that this is tetrameter and adding the word the would spoil
this rhythm. My 1890 (published during RLS lifetime) fifth edition reads
'home from sea'

fpulmanns said...

I, too really like this poem, for its acceptance of what eventually must come after life, and because of that acceptance, dignity and the ability to enjoy what time one has. The third line, especially strikes a chord with me.
Incidentally, I first stumbled upon this poem in a very good (IMO, anyway) short story by Robert Heinlein. I believe it was called "The man who sold the moon", but I'm not sure. Anyone?

Bran Dawri

"When approaching a crossroads, always turn left, 'cause the right way is rong!"

MelDros said...

"Incidentally, I first stumbled upon this poem in a very good (IMO,
anyway) short story by Robert Heinlein. I believe it was called "The man
who sold the moon", but I'm not sure. Anyone?"

No, it was called "Requiem" and that was also my first introduction to it.

Mel Droszcz
Fort Lauderdale

Bunch Amy R said...

My father passed away three years ago tomorrow from lung cancer and wanted this poem etched on his stone. We did so, not only to honor his request but because it was so fitting. I remember him quoting this poem from time to time and recently wondered who wrote it. I find it fitting that someone who wrote such an epic novel as Treasure Island could write something so concise and to the point, saying so much with so few words. That was my father, a man who lived life to the fullest but who's life could be measured by simply saying: he was the best. You can view his headstone at

Amy Bunch
Pier 1 Imports
Landing SpecialistRegret not what you do but what you don't.

Patrick Brinton said...

I think the controversy over "from sea" is an English/American English
thing. In England the constructions "He went to sea" and "I was in
hospital" are commonly used; I live in the US, and get raised eyebrows
when I use them. The other one I can think of that often drops the
"the" is church. I am sure there are many more. I have certainly also
heard "she is out of hospital" and while I do not recall having
actually heard "home from sea", it is not a great stretch (and I never
knew anyone who went to sea, let alone came home from there, so I would
not have had much occasion for it!)

jean fuller said...

I just really noticed this poem upon my third reading of a lovely book by K.C.McKinnon - Dancing at the Harvest Moon. In the book it was inscribed on the tombstone of a main character we only meet as a friend of the main female character - This poem has so impressed me that I came to this website to read it all. I have printed it out and will save this printout in hopes that one of my children but probably my grand daughter Casey will be touched by it too. She is quite a poet herself. Thank you.
Jean Fuller (

Tara Li said...

I too first found this poem from Heinlein's short story "Requiem". I
often contrast it with Dorothy Parker's "Resume'" (#150 in the
archives). The only other work I've found as effective in my occasional
thoughts about suicide is _Pilgrimage: The Book of the People_, by Zenna
Henderson (now collected with other People stories in the omnibus

DeBurgh Michael D GS12 SOCKOR SOJ6 said...

Re the story by Robert Heinlein. I just finished reading it once again.
Whether it is titled "Requiem" or "The Man Who Sold The Moon" depends on
which paperback you read it in.

Heinlein's story is the first and only place I've read it.

Erudite I may not be, but voracious reader of material I like I am.
Poetry is not normally my schtick, but there are a precious few I do
enjoy. Requiem is one, Coleridge's Xanadu another, and a number of
Poe's works.

Speaking of Coleridge, I had a dream the other night in which I was
trying to solve a mystery. I played a song in a jukebox and was
listening intently to the tune... then I awoke. For quite a while
afterward on that morning I couldn't shake the feeling that I if I could
remember the song I'd have something special. Perhaps not quite a
special as Xanadu, but still special to me in the same manner as
Coleridge received Xanadu.

Michael D. DeBurgh
Seoul, ROK
"Once by God, I was a U. S. Marine!" - Lee Marvin

"My people are the people of the dessert" said T. E. Lawrence, picking
up his fork.

Ann Shaw said...

This has to be the favourite poem of both my husband and myself but we are at odds over this one word. He feels that "home from THE sea" is better because everything else is THE - "the sailor", "the hunter" and "the hill". I, however, feel that it scans better as "home from sea".

Add to this - my husband was a seagoing officer and we always spoke of people "going to sea" and would never have dreamed of saying "he went away to THE sea" - that's too specific. Sailors sail many seas, not just one. In English also, we don't speak of going to THE home (unless we're talking about going to a nursing home or somesuch).

Enough! It has to be "home from sea".


John Penrose said...

I agree with Kerry and Kip.
The second verse should be included as it ties the first and last together

kerry & kip said...

Why is it that everyone leaves out the middle verse? It may not scan well in today's english, but I feel thet it is an important part of the poem:

"Here may the winds about me blow,
Here the sea may come and go
Here lies peace forevermo'
And the heart for aye shall be still."

Anonymous said...

I like this poem, its not my favorite, but we have to memorize it for school. It is a great poem, and now it will me in my memory.

Anonymous said...

We do not have the middle line paragraph in our poem book. I do agree with you that it is an important line and it should not be put aside. Like I said this poem was not my favorite, but now that we are memorizing it in school its a great poem and will be in my memory!

John Gibson said...

I understand that the version engraved on his tombstone does not have "the" before "sea" in the second to last line? Can anyone confirm this with a photo? That would be fairly conclusive evidence from an early "publication"?




Rob Stephenson (unlikely but true!) said...

Although his handwritten copies contain the expression "home from sea" (Van Dyke Collection, Honolulu) Stevenson's grave says:

"Home is the the sailor, home from the sea"

(It is a stunningly beautiful and peaceful place atop Mt Vaea outside Apia in Samoa. The path to the mountain top from his former home, Vailima, is called "The Way of The Sorrowing Hearts" and way cut by Samoans working through day and night after his death, as funerals needed to be held quickly in the tropics. The ashes of his wife, Fanny, were interred in the grave after her death in California in 1913, with the following inscription:
"Teacher, tender comrade, wife, A fellow-farer true through life, Heart whole and soul free, The August Father gave to me."

If you ever get the chance, make the pilgrimage - I'm sure that you'll agree that there could be few more beautiful places on earth to spend eternity.

Anonymous said...

I agree the inclusion of "the" as in going to "the hospital" is an American thing, as it is rarely used in the UK. The fact that RLS himself didn't include "the" in his handwritten version of the poem is enough for me. Home from Sea, it is!

Anonymous said...

I believe that "home from sea" both sounds better and fits with the meter used. Also, the book in which I first found it, "100 Best Loved Poems", did not contain the middle verse. I think this is because the poem was too long to fit wholly on the gravestone and so someone shortened it and it stuck. Im' not sure.

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