I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)
We all remember ‘Treasure Island’, and ‘Kidnapped’ but few think of Robert Louis Stevenson in terms of poetry. I came across this poem as a child at primary school. A great example for children on personification. A very simple poem that is easy to memorise.
It made the children take an interest in their shadow if they had not already done so. And the fact that a shadow is always part of person and is a bit of a coward being unwilling to be independent – I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me! ‘Nursie’ speaks of the period when privileged children often had a nurse to care for them at home.
Looking back I think one appeal was because the shadow was allowed to be naughty. It was acceptable for the shadow to stay in bed and not be at school; what else could it do on a cloudy day. And the children in class were frequently told to behave so they liked the shadow and they liked the fact that it was a little lazy and stayed at home in bed.