Tahiti and Literature
Tahiti was the setting for Herman Melville’s Omoo, published on this day in 1847. This was the second of Melville’s novels — a sequel to Typee and so a second “Peep at Polynesian Life.” While both of his books were popular, another of my favorite authors also wrote eloquently of his travels including Tahiti. While he had previously travelled with a donkey, Robert Louis Stevenson in 1888 travelled to Tahiti, and after two more voyages settled in the Samoan Islands for the remainder of his life. It was from his time in Tahiti that he was inspired to write some of his most evocative poetry including the following:
Let me fathom out with my arms the length of golden-bred Tahiti
And number one by one the lands of Tautira.
I am seized with fear at Tepari
I shall stop short at Vaita
Clouds are over the sun and it blows a bad wind,
And my home is beyond at Faaroa.
At Vaiumete is a ledge where a man must go with the arms spread.
I must measure with my arms the face of that weary cliff.
Stevenson loved Tahiti and developed a close friendship with a Tahitian named Ori, becoming a "brother" to the Tahitian subchief (Bell, p 217). While he published three tales about Tahiti his collection of travel essays, In the South Seas, did not include essays on the time he spent in Tahiti. I have always been fascinated by this author who, though sickly as a child, would grow up to write wonderful novels of adventure and to travel throughout the world.
In the South Seas by Robert Louis Stevenson. Penguin Classics, New York. 1999 (1896)
Dreams of Exile, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Ian Bell. Henry Holt, New York. 1992