William Henry Davies talks about modern life in this poem. The progress of civilization to modernity has several detrimental effects on human lives. It has snatched simplicity away from modern people. According to the poet, nowadays all that a person needs are care and comfort. One does not have the leisure to enjoy natural vibes. In this poem, Davies upholds the importance of nature and how it helps one to keep his spirit alive.
Leisure William Henry 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 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.
‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies highlights the importance of leisure in one’s life and how the hectic modern life has alienated one from nature.
In this poem, Davies talks about the importance of being close to nature. The poem begins with some examples of what one can do to exhale the stress out of one’s body. If one only cares about the body forgetting about how beautiful and soothing nature is, it will lead that person to spiritual poverty. Moreover, the poet makes use of imagery to portray the beauty of nature. All one has to do is to “stand and stare” at the simple activities of different creatures living close to nature.
The meaning of the poem is not hard to decode. The simplicity of the poem gives readers an idea of how simple things can touch a person deeply. Moreover, the title of the poem, ‘Leisure’ highlights the fact that one should have to make time for one’s mind and soul. A person has to invest that time in simple activities. The poet provides some solutions that one can follow to keep his or her mind healthy. Moreover, the significance of the proximity with nature is the main idea of the poem.
‘Leisure’ consists of seven couplets. It means there are a total of 14 lines in this poem. The poet uses a regular rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AA BB and it goes on like this. As an example, in the first couplet, “care” and “stare” rhyme together. Apart from that, there is also regularity in the metrical scheme of the poem. There are a total of 8 syllables in each line and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. It means each line contains four iambs. For this reason, the overall poem is composed in iambic tetrameter.
Davies begins this poem with the use of irony. In the first line, the poet uses a rhetorical question. The following line contains irony. In the phrases such as “stand and stare” and “beneath the boughs” the poet uses alliteration. After the first couplet, each couplet begins with the phrase “No time”. The poet uses this repetition for the sake of emphasis. In the line, “And stare as long as sheep or cows”, he uses a simile. There is a metaphor in “Streams full of stars” and it is compared with the “skies at night.” Moreover, there is a synecdoche in the phrase, “Beauty’s glance.” The poem also contains personification and epigram as well.
Davies’ poem, ‘Leisure’ presents several themes such as modernity, simplicity, spirituality, nature, and most importantly leisure. The most important theme of the poem is, as said earlier, is leisure. Throughout this work, the poet highlights the importance of leisure in one’s life. Thereafter, another important theme of the poem, modernity, gets fused into the body implicitly. Here, the poet expresses how modernity keeps modern people separated from nature. Apart from that, this poem is a celebration of simplicity and simple activities that keep one’s spirit alive. Such simple activities lead one to the path to spirituality.
Analysis of Leisure
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.
In this poem, Davies talks about living a life that is “full of care”. One has to understand the meaning of this phrase before moving to the next line. Through this phrase, the poet refers to a person whose life is busy mostly with necessities meant only for the body. Hence, they don’t have enough time to work on their mind. The poet says they are so busy that they don’t even have the time to simply “stand” and “stare” at the simple things of nature. In the next couplet, the poet says in modern times, people have no time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as the 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.
In the following couplets, Davies talks about what modern humans avoid due to the lack of time in their busy schedules. It can also be true that they don’t even care about such things. But, the poet cares. In the first couplet of this section, he says people have no time to see the woods when we pass through it. People don’t even know where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. Thereafter, the poet refers to the streams that gleam in the daylight, like stars in the “skies at night.” This section reflects how people have detached themselves from nature. If one just takes a leisurely walk in the woods or stares at the streams in daylight, he or she can see those things.
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.
Moreover, according to the poet, people have no time to turn to a beautiful girl and watch how her feet graciously move while she dances. Along with that, one doesn’t wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began. Here, the poet touches on an exciting idea. When one is about to smile, her eyes reflect the sense of happiness first. Then one can see how the emotion gets expressed through her face. In the last couplet, the poet remarks that a “poor life”, a metaphorical reference to mental poverty, is that of a person who doesn’t have time to stand and enjoy those things. The last couplet acts as a refrain.
The poem, ‘Leisure’ by Davies was first published in his “Songs Of Joy and Others” in 1911. This poem was one of the best poems by Davies. But, at that time, the poem was not included in the five Georgian Poetry anthologies published between 1912 and 1922 by Edward Marsh. Richard J. Stonesifer traces the origin of the poem back to the sonnet by William Wordsworth, ‘The World Is Too Much with Us’. In his Critical Biography of Davies (1963), he says,
But he went to school with Wordsworth’s sonnet “The world is too much with us”, and echoes from that sonnet resound throughout his work as from few other poems. Philosophically, no other single poem can be said to form the basis of so much of his poetry. The celebrated opening of his wise little poem “Leisure” has its origins here.
Here is a list of some poems that are similar to the themes and subject matter of ‘Leisure’ by W. H. Davies.
- A Country Life by Randall Jarrell – This poem depicts the impacts of life, death, and loneliness on one’s life before death finally comes.
- Morning at the Window by T.S. Eliot – It is one of the best T.S. Eliot poems and here the poet presents the impressions of the speaker after looking outside of the window.
- Dust If You Must by Rose Milligan – This poem also deals with similar themes that are present in ‘Leisure’.
- Consider This And In Our Time by W.H. Auden – Here, in one of the best W.H. Auden poems, the poet talks about modern society consisting of individuals who are spiritually dead and sexually frozen.