The full poem (carved in full on his tombstone) reads:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Robert Louis Stevenson had suffered from weak lungs all his life, but he died suddenly in 1894 from a brain haemorrhage. He had travelled widely throughout his adult life, but in 1890 he settled in Samoa; he died and was buried there, and remains there to this day.

The Worcestershire–born poet A. E. Housman was nine years Stevenson's junior – born in 1859. On the latter's death, Housman wrote these lines in tribute:

Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Her far–borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.
Home is the hunter from the hill:
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.
'Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still:
"Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill."

There is some controversy over who was paying tribute to whom, but in fact there is little doubt that the original lines were Stevenson's. Housman's poem was published in his Complete Poems (1959), with the title XXII – R. L. S., and he had written to a friend in 1929: "The poem on R.L.S. appeared at his death in the Academy in 1894."

There is further controversy over whether it should be "home from the sea" or "home from sea". You will notice that the definite article is included in Stevenson's penultimate line, but omitted from Housman's opening one. It is in fact included on Stevenson's tomb – of which you can see a photograph here. There is a possibility that the sculptor made a mistake, but I think we have to accept that Stevenson included the article. Those who insist (like the person who commented on the page already mentioned) that it should be "Home is the sailor, home from sea" would appear to be thinking of Housman.

© Haydn Thompson 2020