This is not really a literary analysis. It’s just a gush of enthusiasm for one of R. L. Stevenson’s jewels — a two-word jewel that has been sitting under my nose for years, but which I only really saw this morning.
In the silence of a countryside morning, a woodpecker is pecking away at one of the garden trees. Peck, peck, peck. Then from another tree come similar sounds. It’s a different kind of woodpecker, a smaller one, but equally industrious. And when I realize it, verses are floating around in my mind.
In the highlands, in the country places, Where the old plain men have rosy faces, And young fair maidens Quiet eyes; Where essential silence cheers and blesses, And forever in the hill-recesses, Her more lovely music Broods and dies — O to mount again where erst I haunted; Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted, And the low green meadows Bright with sward!
“Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted…”
And then it strikes me.
Would I have ever thought of this phrase? I doubt it. I’d have created a whole sentence, a whole paragraph. But Stevenson, with two words, conjures up the magic of a place full of birds, different kinds of birds, birds that fly around feeding, chirping, unconsciously enjoying the wonder of being winged creatures.
I wonder, was Stevenson a birdwatcher? Maybe. But it’s beyond any doubt that he was a poet.
If you would like to read the poem in its entirety, here it is:
In the Highlands In the highlands, in the country places, Where the old plain men have rosy faces, And the young fair maidens Quiet eyes; Where essential silence cheers and blesses, And for ever in the hill-recesses Her more lovely music Broods and dies — O to mount again where erst I haunted; Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted, And the low green meadows Bright with sward; And when even dies, the million-tinted, And the night has come, and planets glinted, Lo, the valley hollow Lamp-bestarr'd! O to dream, O to awake and wander There, and with delight to take and render, Through the trance of silence, Quiet breath! Lo! for there, among the flowers and grasses, Only the mightier movement sounds and passes; Only winds and rivers, Life and death.