Port William Statue - What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?
In the rich tapestry of literature, certain authors stand out not only for their literary contributions but also for the unique cultural backgrounds that shaped their perspectives. One such luminary figure is W.H. Davies, a poet whose verses echoed the beauty of nature and the quest for freedom. Born in Newport, Wales, in 1871, William Henry Davies was destined to become one of the most celebrated poets of the early 20th century. This article delves into the Welsh roots of W.H. Davies, examining the possible influences of his homeland on his life and work.
The Church House Inn, Newport. A blue plaque records that W. H. Davies was born here.
W.H. Davies was born into a working-class family in the vibrant city of Newport, situated on the banks of the River Usk in South Wales. His upbringing in the borderlands of Wales left an indelible mark on his artistic sensibilities. Wales, with its rugged landscapes, rolling hills, and ancient traditions, provided a fertile ground for the young poet's imagination to take root.
Davies often drew inspiration from the Welsh landscape, which played a pivotal role in shaping his poetic vision. The verdant valleys, mist-covered mountains, and meandering rivers of Wales found their way into his verses, creating a vivid backdrop for his exploration of nature and the human condition. In poems like "Leisure," Davies contemplates the beauty of the natural world, a theme that can be traced back to the awe-inspiring vistas of his Welsh homeland.
W. H. Davies
The cultural richness of Wales, with its deep-rooted traditions and distinct language, left an enduring imprint on Davies. While he wrote in English, the cadence and rhythm of Welsh, a language known for its poetic qualities, might have subtly influenced his use of language. The melodic resonance of Welsh, often described as a language made for poetry, could be sensed in the musicality of Davies' verses.
While Wales was a land of natural beauty, it was also undergoing significant changes during Davies' formative years. The Industrial Revolution had cast its shadow over the valleys of Wales, transforming the landscape and the lives of its inhabitants. Davies' childhood coincided with a period of profound social and economic upheaval, as coal mines and steelworks proliferated, altering the traditional way of life in the Welsh communities.
The impact of industrialization on working-class families, including Davies' own, was palpable. The struggle for economic survival, the harsh working conditions, and the stark contrast between rural simplicity and urban chaos became recurrent themes in Davies' later works. The industrial backdrop of Wales provided a stark contrast to the idyllic landscapes that inspired his early poetry, contributing to the multifaceted nature of his artistic expression.
Leaving school at 14 Davies served an apprenticeship as a picture framer. At 22 years of age, cushioned by a modest inheritance, he set sail for New York. He travelled across the U.S. and Canada by hopping trains, supporting himself by casual labour and panhandling.
One of the most distinctive aspects of W.H. Davies' life was his decision to embrace a nomadic existence. Driven by a yearning for freedom and a disdain for the constraints of conventional society, Davies became a tramp, traversing the length and breadth of the U. S. A. and beyond. His 'Autobiography' covers the period 1893-1899 when he was 'travelling' in the United States. His stay was cut short when his right foot was crushed under the wheels of a train and was subsequently amputated below the knee. He wore a pegleg thereafter.
Welsh literature has a long tradition of celebrating the wandering poet, known as the "cywyddwyr," who roamed the countryside composing verses. This tradition of wandering bards might have been a source of inspiration for Davies as he embarked on his unconventional journey. The spirit of independence, coupled with a love for nature, echoed the ethos of the Welsh bardic tradition, providing Davies with a cultural framework for his unconventional lifestyle.
Despite the challenges and hardships of his tramp existence, Davies continued to write and compose poetry during his travels. His unique perspective and the authenticity of his experiences eventually caught the attention of the literary world. In 1905, his first collection of poetry, titled "The Soul's Destroyer," was published. However, it was with the release of "The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp" in 1908 that Davies gained widespread recognition.
"The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp" not only chronicled Davies' adventures as a wanderer but also provided a glimpse into the soul of a Welsh poet navigating the complexities of an industrialized world. The contrast between the pastoral beauty of Wales and the gritty urban landscapes he encountered served as a poignant backdrop to his reflections on life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness.
Sculpture : Stand and Stare
With his literary reputation on the rise, Davies found himself in the midst of London's literary circles. The bohemian atmosphere of the early 20th century, with its blend of artistic fervor and social rebellion, resonated with the tramp poet from Wales. His encounters with fellow writers, including George Bernard Shaw and Edward Thomas, further enriched his creative endeavors and expanded his literary horizons.
W.H. Davies, the tramp poet of Wales, stands as a testament to the enduring influence of cultural roots on artistic expression. His journeys from the Welsh valleys to the bustling streets of London and the U.S.A shaped his poetic vision and thematic preoccupations. The landscapes of Wales, the spirit of its people, and the age-old traditions found resonance in his verses, creating a body of work that reflects both the universal and the distinctly Welsh dimensions of the human experience.
Autobiography Of A Supertramp
The Autobiography Of A Supertramp
"The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp" by W. H. Davies is a captivating and unconventional memoir that provides readers with a unique perspective on the life of a wanderer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Published in 1908, the book chronicles Davies' experiences as a tramp, someone who chooses a life of voluntary homelessness and travel.
One of the notable aspects of the autobiography is Davies' unflinching honesty in recounting the challenges and hardships he faced. Born in Wales in 1871, Davies' early life was marked by poverty, and his decision to embrace a life of vagrancy was a response to the societal constraints and injustices he perceived. The book takes readers on a journey through Davies' various experiences in the U.S.A, from hopping freight trains to seeking odd jobs, all the while exploring the landscapes and characters he encountered on the road.
Davies' writing style is characterized by its simplicity and directness. His prose is accessible, yet it possesses a lyrical quality that captures the essence of the places he visits and the people he meets. The language is often poetic, reflecting Davies' background as a poet. This unique blend of prose and poetic elements contributes to the book's literary appeal and distinguishes it from more conventional autobiographies of the time.
The title itself, "The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp," hints at Davies' self-awareness and his refusal to conform to societal expectations. The term "super-tramp" suggests a level of autonomy and choice in his transient lifestyle, challenging preconceived notions about homelessness and nomadism. Davies uses his narrative not only to share his personal story but also to comment on the broader social and economic issues of his time.
The autobiography also serves as a social commentary on the impact of industrialization and urbanization on the lives of ordinary people. Through Davies' experiences, readers gain insight into the struggles of the working class and the disillusionment with the promises of progress. The book raises questions about the cost of modernization and the toll it takes on individuals who find themselves marginalized and dispossessed.
Moreover, Davies' encounters with various individuals during his travels contribute to the rich tapestry of the narrative. The characters he meets, each with their own stories and struggles, add depth and nuance to the portrayal of the diverse communities he interacts with. This multifaceted depiction of society enhances the autobiographical account, making it not just a personal story but a broader exploration of the human condition.
In conclusion, "The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp" is a remarkable literary work that combines the autobiographical genre with social commentary and poetic sensibility. W. H. Davies' candid portrayal of his life as a wanderer, coupled with his keen observations of society, elevates the book beyond a mere personal narrative. The autobiography remains a timeless exploration of freedom, identity, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.
"Leisure" is a thought-provoking poem written by W. H. Davies. Published in 1911 as part of his collection titled "Songs of Joy and Others," the poem reflects Davies' contemplation on the value of leisure in a rapidly industrializing and mechanized world.
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.
The poem opens with a rhetorical question, "What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare?" This immediately sets the tone for the entire poem and invites readers to ponder the hectic nature of modern life. The use of the word "care" suggests the burdens and responsibilities that individuals carry, emphasizing the relentless pace of daily existence. The poet, however, challenges this busyness by suggesting that a life without moments of contemplation and stillness is not truly lived.
Davies then goes on to celebrate the simple joys of observing nature. He encourages us to "stand and stare" at natural wonders, such as "sheep or cows" or "trees and hills." These seemingly mundane elements of the rural landscape become a source of solace and inspiration in a world driven by progress and industrialization. The poet advocates for the importance of reconnecting with the natural world, which serves as a counterbalance to the artificial and stressful aspects of modern life.
The poem's structure is notably simple, consisting of seven couplets. This simplicity mirrors the poet's call for a return to a simpler, more unhurried way of life. The language is accessible, and the imagery is vivid, making it easy for readers to visualize the scenes painted by Davies. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AA BB, and there is also regularity in the metrical scheme of the poem. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot and there are 8 syllables in each line.
One of the strengths of "Leisure" lies in its universality. Despite being written over a century ago, the poem's message resonates with contemporary readers. In today's fast-paced, technology-driven society, where people are constantly bombarded with information and obligations, the need for moments of stillness and reflection is arguably more relevant than ever. The poem prompts individuals to reassess their priorities and reconsider the true meaning of a fulfilling life.
Additionally, Davies employs a subtle critique of the societal emphasis on productivity and material success. The poet suggests that a life solely focused on work and achievement is impoverished, lacking the richness that comes from taking the time to appreciate the world around us. The poem challenges the prevailing notion that success is measured solely by material gain and career accomplishments.
In conclusion, W. H. Davies' "Leisure" is a timeless work that invites readers to reevaluate their priorities and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. The poet's exploration of the tension between the demands of a busy life and the need for moments of quiet contemplation remains relevant and thought-provoking, making "Leisure" a classic that continues to inspire introspection and reflection.