Friday, December 2, 2011

Poetry Friday: Robert Louis Stevenson in Hawaii

The hotel where we stayed in Hawaii claimed bragging rights to Robert Louis Stevenson's visit to the island. The Hau Tree Lanai is situated beneath the trees where Stevenson is said to have lounged and written. In a letter to a friend, he described a lanai as “an open room or summer parlour, partly surrounded with venetian shutters, in part quite open, which is the living room.”

Today this spot is an open patio with the Hau Tree as a roof. You have to watch your head. In fact some low branches had been wrapped to keep folks from doing any damage if they accidentally banged into one.

“If anyone desires such old fashion things such as lovely scenery, quiet pure air, clear sea water, good food and heavenly sunsets hung out before his eyes over the Pacific and the distant hills of Wai’anae, I recommend him cordially to the Sans Souci.”

It was a good recommendation.

We always decorate for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. This year, since we had no children or grands nearby, we borrowed some.

Our Christmas lights were bad, so Lauren, Leah, Abby, and I piled into the car and headed to the store for replacements. The girls decorated the tree and wrapped presents. What a big help!

For Poetry Friday, in honor of Christmas decorating and Robert Louis Stevenson, here is Christmas at Sea. Stop by Carol's Corner for the roundup. 

Christmas at Sea
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94).

Stop by Carol's Corner for more Poetry Friday.


  1. I love reading about your Hawaii adventures! And tell the girls they did a GREAT JOB on the tree. Lovely!

  2. I concur. Beautiful tree! And I always love RLS.

  3. A beautiful and sentimental poem for Christmas. I especially love the verse that begins, "The frost was on the village roofs". He paints quite a picture for us, even today. I don't imagine he wrote this in Hawaii, but perhaps! Great to borrow those 'grands'. My oldest moved away this year; you've given me a good idea.

  4. What a melancholy poem. I wanted them to come into harbor at the end, not manage to get back out to see and gone again...

  5. I know, Mary Lee! I was rooting for a docking, too. Thanks for sharing, Doraine - and what lovely young decorators you employed! I enjoyed the Hawaii description, too.

  6. Believe it or not, Linda, "Christmas at Sea" may have been written under the blue Hawaiian sky. He is known to have worked on his collection called "Ballads" while in Hawaii and the poem is the last one in that collection. Maybe staring at the whitecaps brought the memory back to mind.

    I agree, Mary Lee and Robyn. I wished for a happier outcome, too. I suppose it was a good result for the ship and crew, just not one sad sailor.