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Where Go the Boats? -- Robert Louis Stevenson

(Poem #828) Where Go the Boats?
 Dark brown is the river,
     Golden is the sand.
 It flows along for ever,
     With trees on either hand.

 Green leaves a-floating,
     Castles of the foam,
 Boats of mine a-boating--
     Where will all come home?

 On goes the river
     And out past the mill,
 Away down the valley,
     Away down the hill.

 Away down the river,
     A hundred miles or more,
 Other little children
     Shall bring my boats ashore.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
        (A Child's Garden of Verses, XIV)

Few poets can capture the spirit of childhood in quite the way Stevenson can.
The world a child inhabits is in several dimensions bigger, richer and
altogether more magical than the 'real' one, and Stevenson's poems bring out
that difference admirably, blending the real world seamlessly with that of
the imagination, and tossing in details like 'it flows along forever' and
'castles of the foam' for the child's eye view.

As always, note the wonderful imagery, the *feel* of vast distances and
enchanted journeys, the gently rippling rhythm, and the typically
Stevensonian ending (the 'other little children' in far away places is a
recurrent theme in 'A Child's Garden of Verses').


Biography: poem #20

Other Stevenson poems on Minstrels:

Poem #20, 'Requiem'
Poem #84, 'From a Railway Carriage'
Poem #290, 'Bed in Summer'
Poem #450, 'Auntie's Skirts'
Poem #780, 'The Vagabond'


34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

RobKayKrohne said...

First poem I ever memorized. I believe I was 7 or 8 years old. I am now 79.
I was so happy to find it on the Internet, as I could only remember the
first verse.

Thank you.

Kathryn Krohne

Gerald Warren said...

My grandmother would read to me "A Child's Garden Of Verses" over and over
and over again. This was one of my favorites. As a child who played alone,
I think I was saddened by the fact that children of my ilk, i.e. "other
little children," should live and play so far away. :-)!


Tuttler said...

Thanks for having this online! My 82-year old father (still hard working,
and culture never quite "took" to him!) quoted this poem while we were sitting
at the dinner table after church last Sunday. You should have seen our faces!
We were discussing the struggle memorizing Scripture and he just blurted this
poem out! Said it was the only thing he memorized as a young child and he
has never forgotten it!

Sandi Tuttle

MAK said...

This is the only poem I have ever memorized and retained. It just seems to settle in a good spot with me. Judging from the other comments, it has touched the hearts of many others too. Looks like it's a good candidate for being called a work of genius!

By the way; my wife and I have found that this poem lends itself well to being adapted to lullaby singing. We use the tune of Down in the Valley. Try it, it's been a favorite of our children for over a decade now!

-Mark, Salamanca, NY

Tucker St.John said...

Dark brown is the river... I learned that song in the 5th or 6th grade,
but only remembered the first verse. (Didn't know it was a poem by RLS.)
Here I am going on 70 years old, and I must be in my dotage because that
song has been going through my mind for days. Since virtually everything
seems to be on the web - I decided to look. So glad to have found it. I
take it the little things with the circles are for the ocarina? It looks
fun. Where does one get an ocarina? Is it hard to play?
Thanks for having the poem out there...
Sincerely, Mrs. T. St.John

ShantiaWG said...

I was looking for this poem to remember all of the verses so that I could
sing it to an "adopted Granson." It already has a lovely lulaby-ish tune I
learned it that way as child.
Thanks! Shantia

Olliedalaba said...

WHERE GO THE BOATS......Stevenson

I remembered the first verse from early childhood. I was so pleased to find
it. I am using it in a sermon for New Year's day, tomorrow. I'll be 72 on
Jan. 25,06. Thanks. Ollie Dalaba

Janice Chung said...

I had to memorize this poem in public school in Honolulu,
Hawaii. I often recite the first verse, when standing at a rain-swollen or
muddy river to whatever group I am with - family or walking club or Sierra
Club. I could never remember anything more than that first verse, nor who
was the author, nor the title, before this!

Janice C.

Rajesh said...

This day 12 Nov is RL Stevensons 150th birthday. He reminds me of my first poem which I read as a 6-7 years old.
This is an ageless poem and many genaratons of people have memories attached to it and so is mine.
"Dark Brown is the river..."
Thank you Mr. RL Stevenson. Rest in Peace.
Rajesh @ New Delhi, India

Anonymous said...

Where can I get the music or hear the tune you spoke of above?

Anonymous said...

Im 76 years old and I learned this poem when I was 7 years old. Am happy to find the exact wordings though I still almost memorize it

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Anonymous said...

This helped me a lot as a gay 12 year old that didn't quite understand what was happening. I wasn't sure why but I always felt better when reading this poem in my room before I cut myself. This helped me through troubling times and I'm glad others appreciate this too.

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RIC LOPEZ said...

first recited this poem wayback in my Grade5 days in a "Tone Poem" contest. we toppled the GRade 6 Team in the contest

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