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  • W. H. Davies - The Welsh Roots Of A Poet In Search Of Nature And Freedom

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    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.