Leisure, by William Henry Davies

I’ve been too busy to write much here lately, which is perhaps why this appeals so much.  If you’ve been busy too, sit for a moment in the Poetry Corner.


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.

May you all have ample time to stand and stare.

7 Responses to “Leisure, by William Henry Davies”

  1. Brian Freeman Says:

    Nice. This is a gentler take on a subject addressed memorably by William Wordsworth in his sonnet (one of my all-time favorites since encountering it in high school English class):

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


  2. David Fitzgerald Says:

    We all have our favorites I guess. Beloow is Yeats’ poem about the Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill in County Sligo.

    I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

    And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
    Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
    There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
    And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

    I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
    While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
    I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

    Here’s Yeats’ explanation of the poem’s inspiration. As with most such things, I think it ruins it, no?

    “I had [in London] various women friends on whom I would call towards five o’clock mainly to discuss my thoughts that I could not bring to a man without meeting some competing thought, but partly because their tea and toast saved my pennies for the bus ride home; but with women, apart from their intimate exchanges of thought, I was timid and abashed. I was sitting on a seat in front of the British Museum feeding pigeons when a couple of girls sat near and began enticing my pigeons away, laughing and whispering to one another, and I looked straight in front of me, very indignant, and presently went into the Museum without turning my head towards them. Since then I have often wondered if they were pretty or merely very young. Sometimes I told myself very adventurous love-stories with myself for hero, and at other times I planned out a life of lonely austerity, and at other times mixed the ideals and planned a life of lonely austerity mitigated by periodical lapses. I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem “Innisfree,” my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music. I had begun to loosen rhythm as an escape from rhetoric and from that emotion of the crowd that rhetoric brings, but I only understood vaguely and occasionally that I must for my special purpose use nothing but the common syntax. A couple of years later I could not have written that first line with its conventional archaism — “Arise and go” — nor the inversion of the last stanza”

  3. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Its the fin de siecle Anglo-Irish. Pure genius, but in the end, they always leave you feeling disappointed in them. Charles Stewart Parnell comes readily to mind. At least you can work up a healthy hate for de Valera or Collins. The Ascendancy boys always call to my mind the pruddish spurned fiance in A Room With a View. Where’s the blood and guts?

  4. Pat O'Donnell Says:


    First I have to defend the honor of St. Patrick, and now Yeats? Don’t go getting my Irish up.

    The first part of Yeats’s explanation may strike you as a bit of a spoiler, but only because the first part paints such an unflattering, immature portrait of the artist and the mindset from which the poem takes him. That introduction doesn’t explain the birth of the poem, however, just the very unpoetic setting in which it arose.

    The part from “I still had the ambition…” onward explains the poem’s genesis, and it is the kind of thing you’d expect and hope for. An intrusion by the natural world into his then small, immature, little mind — the sound of water — brings that mind elsewhere, and inspires him. It calls that mind away from the pettiness that preoccupied it, to something beautiful.

    That history — from slightly ugly pettiness to striking beauty — echoes the contrast between Innisfree and the roadway and pavements grey.

    Do what you will with Joyce, or Beckett and the rest of that impenetrable lot, but, fer fook’s sake, as my cousins say, leave off auld WBY.

  5. David Fitzgerald Says:

    With apologies Pat, it may be more banal than that. I think Yeats is simply explaining in the second part how and why he abandoned lyric (what he calls rhetorical) poetry for the free verse more usually associated with him.

    Be that as it may, I remain a big fan of the poetry. Authors are, perhaps, the best advocates for the meaning or even the genesis of their inspiration.

  6. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Sorry, meant “not the best”.

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