Paton, a great lover of nature, was attracted to the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson because of the poet's great naturalism. The sounds of nature delighted Paton, particularly the sound of birdcalls; he was known to say that lines from Robert Louis Stevenson's "To S.R. Crockett" expressed his truest feelings:
Be it granted to me to behold you again in dying, Hills of Home! and to hear again the Call; Hear about the graves of the martyrs the peewees crying And hear no more at all.
The peewee, or pewit, is a member of the plover family. So is the titihoya whose plaintive cry is heard in the lyrical prelude to Cry, the Beloved Country : "About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld...But the rich green hills break down...The titihoya does not cry there any more."
Early Experiments Echoes from Stevenson's poem, with its longing for the hills of home, abound in some poems Paton wrote as schoolboy and young college student—echoes that may be heard in such lines as: "When the last sleep comes, lay me to rest / Among the green rolling hills that I know," or "The grass-larks call from the open veld, / From Kununata the grey doves call." Similar echoes may be heard in Paton's youthful reflections on soldiers fallen in the Boer War. One of these is "Ladysmith," written at age eighteen, of which the final quatrain reads:
Art lonely son, the moon will pale, And over the hills come Dawn for thee, See, son, these wild veld-flowers I take And twine them on the cross of thee.
His Influences: From Stevenson to Whitman Fifty years later he again offered wild veld flowers in his elegy, "Flowers for the Departed": a poem memorializing four students protesting the Vietnam War who were killed by National Guard gunfire at Kent State University, Ohio, in 1971. By then, Stevenson's voice had long faded from his work to be replaced by the deeper tones of Walt Whitman.