Leisure by W.H.Davies (1871-1940)
"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
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 if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."
A predilection to stand and stare (probably after a lengthy 'tramp' along country roads) lay at W.H. (William) Davies's very core – and, possibly, within his genes as well. His paternal grandfather (a seafaring man who'd risen to captain his own ship – and who'd played a large part in the future poet's upbringing) would, in his retirement, gaze at the sea for hours on end: noting changes in the conditions. His grandson shared much of that old sailor's wanderlust, as well as some of his stoicism.
After a slightly delinquent youth spent in his birthplace at Newport, south Wales, Davies found the prospect of 'settling down' into a regular pattern of paid employment distinctly unappetising. He'd 'taken to the road' following an apprenticeship in picture-framing, and his consequent travels would find him, by turns, begging his way around Britain; herding sheep in freighters across the Atlantic; getting himself intentionally arrested into American jails (one method of sitting-out the inclement winters) and 'hobo-ing' his way towards the Klondike gold rush by methodically jumping trains. It was this latter adventure which had cost him his lower right leg in March, 1899, after an ill-timed leap. Thereafter fitted with a series of wooden legs, Davies's peregrinations had not ceased entirely – merely slowed down a little.
A born raconteur, Davies – a diminutive man sporting a distinctive quiff, which people were inclined to mistake for a toupee - wrote his 'break-through' Autobiography of a Super-Tramp after encouragement from a new friend, Edward Thomas. The well-known playwright George Bernard Shaw was enlisted to contribute an introduction – he would also suggest a title and recommend the eventual publishing firm. The Autobiography was an instant success, opening a new world for its author. Its royalties enabled Davies to move to 45, London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent – where 'Leisure' was most likely written. He was to lodge there for the three years from 1911. A turn of the century building described as 'handsome' and sandwiched between two shops, the house was owned by a local businessman, Henry Martin. Davies already knew the area quite well, having previously lived nearby in a cheap two-room farm cottage found (and subsidised) for him by Thomas.