W. H. Davies
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 and 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.
Many times through my life I’ve thought of those first two couplets (and the last) from the poem “Leisure” by the Welsh poet W.H.Davies. (The “W.H.” stands for William Henry, the same as my son’s middle names but I didn’t know that at the time – James was named after my brothers.) I think we learnt “Leisure” at primary school, like all little Aussies who had to learn poems by heart in the Sixties, and I daresay I could recite almost every line if prompted by my sister Mary. It’s not a long poem.
Naturally, you must be at your leisure in order to think of “Leisure”, otherwise you’d be too busy to consider it. This year has been exceedingly busy for Chris and me, too busy this summer for cycling to our favourite field near Exeter Canal, where we like to take a picnic and lie “beneath the boughs”, and stare quite long at herds of cows… Too busy to cycle up to the ford of a sunny evening and sit on the wooden bridge, and dangle our hot feet into the running stream “full of stars…” Often too busy “to turn at Beauty’s glance” – this year we didn’t go to Brittany, France… Our car whizzed by many woods and, even when we did stop for a quick walk up to the Obelisk, we saw no squirrels hiding nuts in the grass as we passed. We were so “full of care” we had no time “to stand and stare”.
But earlier this week we – Mary, Henry (my brother from Australia), Chris and I – found some time and went to Cornwall. We stayed in Rosie’s charming holiday cottage set in a pretty garden with a babbling brook. We must have had sea fever for we went “down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky” (even though we live by the sea in Devon). We dallied down at Doc Martin’s Port Wenn (Port Isaac) and had a lingering lunch at The Golden Lion. We perused Padstow Harbour against a background of pink clouds, and windows reflected gold in the calm water as the sun went down; we sauntered across the sand at Mawgan Porth, then danced with joy at the edge of the running tide (“a clear call that may not be denied”). The clouds flew in the wind and the sea sprayed and spumed in a sparkling mist along the shoreline. In the evenings we impostor “vagrant gypsies” had merry yarns beside glowing fires.
And now it’s nice to be home. Back to work.