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Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship Poem

Lisa has written a poem inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson and her month-long residency in Grez-sur-Loing in France. In summer this year, she was the recipient of the prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.

The Nature of Influence

To Robert Louis Stevenson, on a visit to Grez-sur-Loing


I read you were woken by doves
and here, too, so am I.

I read in the small, worn book
(size of my palm, smell of skin)
written by your cousin, published seven years after
you died.

This here the ninth edition, 1911,
in which I found a four leaf clover
pressed; its green matured inside the closed book
to dark spring, potent, owning its power,
a well-kept secret.

Four tiny veined leaves, perfect and precious
as baby’s fingernails.
It is a gift from the past I have received,
but I know not from whom.

The river is ever changing and yet I see it as the
Self-same river you called ‘pellucid’
but also ‘choked with sedge’.
I have walked over cobbles the soles of your feet have tread,
and now I slip into your water to swim.
The current is strong and your sedge shackles my ankles.

You are everywhere here:
in the sycamore seeds parched on the old stone
in the poise of the gecko that listens to my thoughts
in the whirr and beat of the invisible wings
of aquamarine dragonflies – heard but not seen –
as your enduring voice.

The tug of the river makes my strokes stronger.
I swim hard for shore, uncertain where I’ll end up.

And then, basking, skin drying,
I watch bees thin as wasps work the clover.
On my stomach, in the forest of short weeds
I find my own: can you believe, larger and greener?
I press it on the self-same page where I first found you.

By Lisa Ballantyne