Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

The Land Of Counterpane, by Robert Louis Stevenson 

I have read a lot of Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry in my lifetime, although not so much in recent years. Stevenson seems to have fallen out of fashion among the nursery set. In looking back, I am not sure I read a great many of his poems to my children. Ben, maybe; Sam, certainly not. (Sam early on had a fascination with Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," and that was pretty much the extent of Sam's childhood poetry exposure. I probably read it to him nightly for six months when he was five or six.) (An aside: As I reflect upon what I have shipped out to Ramona so far, I shamefacedly have to acknowledge that very little poetry, let alone Stevenson, has been sent. What is wrong with me?)

So why Stevenson now, today? (Especially coming so hard on the heels of Robert Frost?) Stevenson is on my mind because lately I have been spending way too much time in the Land of Counterpane. My end of May trip to Los Angeles and this week's trip to St. Louis and Chicago (a three day, thousand mile excursion) both ended with me sick, sick, sick. Nothing critical, just my less than robust immune system falling on its face yet once again.

The Land of Counterpane is not so pleasant as an adult. I have no toy soldiers or fleets of ships to send in and out of the blankets. I don't even have any Legos to while away the hours. No, as an adult I have crumpled tissues on a nightstand, a book shoved to the side of the bed so it won't get lost in the bedclothes, my glasses perched precariously nearby. There are lone trips down the stairs to the kitchen and a desultory search of the cupboards and refrigerator (knowing in advance that there is nothing—nothing!—in the house, indeed the whole town, that I am even remotely interested in eating). There is the eyeing of the clock at random moments, resulting in my thinking one of two things: Is that all the later it is? or Is it that late already? 

No, the Land of Counterpane holds no charms for me. At least not as of late.

As it turns out, it held no charm for Stevenson either, whose short life was notable for both his prolific literary output and his stunningly poor health. A few years before his abrupt death at age 44, he wrote, "I wish to die in my boots; no more Land of Counterpane for me. To be drowned, to be shot, to be thrown from a horse — ay, to be hanged, rather than pass again through that slow dissolution."

It is late Sunday morning. The last of the laundry has dried outside in the strong sunlight and I will go take it down shortly. I am not in the Land of Counterpane today, nor yet entirely of the world either. Like Stevenson, I am in search of my boots, preferably the seven-league ones.


Terrij said...

When I saw your Robert Frost post I thought I should read more poetry, now I'm more convinced. As an adult when I am in the Land of Counterpanes I like to be at the Sea of Tea with a Beach of Books or a Cloud of a Movie.But none of this can beat the real thing which is only 10 minutes away from where I live on a beautiful day like today.

see you there! said...

Ah, The Land of Counterpane. Definitely a poem from childhood. Sorry to hear of the circumstances you are going through that brought you to post the poem but I enjoyed reading it once again.