28 October 2016 Susannah

Poem of the Month: November 2016 – Leisure by William Henry Davies

Plaque on "Glendower" at Watledge,

Leisure by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W. H. Davies, London, November 24th, 1913

W. H. Davies, London, November 24th, 1913

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I have been woefully short of time to “stand and stare” this year, and am hoping that 2017 will bring just a little more time to “stand beneath the boughs” and contemplate the beauty of the world.

This poem by Welsh poet William Henry Davies was first published in 1911 and it became his best known poem, with the first two lines frequently quoted and anthologised. Davies (1871 – 1940) was born in Monmouthshire, Wales, the son of an iron worker, but his father died when William was only three. When his mother remarried, he was brought up by his grandparents. He never settled to any sort of job and became a tramp, which resulted in his book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) describing his wanderings in the UK and USA. He was much encouraged by Welsh poet Edward Thomas and gradually he made literary friends and became an established figure in the literary world. He married in 1923 and his book Your Emma is an account of his courtship of Helen, his wife.

Listen to Davies reading his own poem, in his lovely lilting Welsh accent:

In Newport there is a statue representing the poem, by sculptor Paul Bothwell-Kincaid. View it here.

Davies was much influenced by Wordsworth’s poem The World is Too Much with Us and, like Wordsworth, he wrote in a simple, direct style about the beauties of nature. Leisure shows an appreciation of the simple things of life, the wonders of the natural world. Davies reminds us to exult in these beauties, to take time to see them properly and appreciate them. He also insists that we too often get caught up in the trivial things of life and then forget about what really matters. The poem is a protest about our unnecessary commitment to worldly affairs and objects. Animals, he argues, are better than us at enjoying what matters – fresh air, nature, stars. By being too preoccupied, we are missing the loveliness of the woods and streams, the feet of a girl dancing in the fields.

The poem is a soothing one, and a timely reminder to us all to sometimes slow down and let nature provide therapy.

Share your thoughts on this lovely poem by leaving a comment.


Project Gutenberg: W. H. Davies, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

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Featured image credit- Plaque on “Glendower” at Watledge, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, commemorating the last home of W. H. Davies. By Martinevans123 – Own work by the original uploader, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50614591
Body image credit- W. H. Davies, London, November 24th, 1913. By Coburn, Alvin Langdon, 1882-1966 — Photographer – NYPL, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7655250

Comments (2)

  1. Katherine Andrews

    W H Davies poem I loved the reading. I must try to stand and stare more often. Thank you Susannah for the lectures this year.
    Katherine

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad you have enjoyed the lectures, Katherine. I must say I am looking forward to putting the ‘Leisure’ poem into practice!

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