Tag Archives: W.H. Davies

No time to stop and stare?

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I’d guess that WH Davies had a reason for calling his most familiar poem ‘Leisure’. Although it has been holiday time the days and evenings have been full, yet there have been moments, every day, to stop and stare: yesterday to marvel at a thrush singing each song twice over, and to hear how he had orchestrated a vehicle reversing alarm and a common telephone ring into his song. That fulfilled this verse:

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

And coming down Abbot’s Hill the other day, I saw a squirrel digging for nuts, which recalls:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

Bring Spring on! Here’s the poem:

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 is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Soon ragged robin will be in flower. Magdalene, Cambridge.

 

 

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Good Morning Life!

 

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I probably should not take my mobile phone to church on a Sunday, though 90% of the time I remember to silence it – and then forget to turn the rings on again afterwards, so receive no messages.

However, the gadget serves to record, once in a while, the glories of what I might otherwise miss. This third-rate photo just gives the impression of scarlet pimpernel and purple grass heads taking over some bare soil at the top of the hill. Almost an abstract.

Lovely enough to say, ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’ (WH Davies).

Next day, somewhat dispiritedly riding home in the rain, I spotted maybe a hundred starlings, adults and juveniles, enjoying the downpour because it was bringing worms  and leatherjackets to the surface of the park. Would I have noticed them if they’d been quiet? Maybe not, but they are incapable of staying quiet! ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’

Si vis pacem pare hortum

willow

shoots aiming for the sky from a fallen willow.

Higher and further into Wales: from Laugharne to the Brecon Beacons, to stop and stare and absorb the tranquillity at a friend’s place: marjoram with meadowsweet; the herb colonising the paths above the damp land, where meadowsweet shelters the pheasant family from kite and buzzard if not weasel or cat.

Tranquillity has been carefully nurtured: planting a tree here, a day lily there, giving the Mermaid rose room to spread herself into the trees around.

Robert Frost wrote of good fences, and wondered

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

                                                          What I was walling in or walling out,

                                                          And to whom I was like to give offence.

Here, sometimes, there are Hereford cows, though this day the fence and hedge were holding back a mixed flock of sheep – the valley sheep are fatter, and would be fatter still were they able to chew the cud on spinach, beans and garden flowers. Not maintaining this fence would cause offence and distress. Distress and offence had already been caused in February.

Our friend’s Eastern boundary once had a hedge and ditch on the other side of the line. A good hedge provides a home for insects, birds and small mammals; its roots protect the soil on either side from being washed away. The old hedge had been grubbed up, the ditch levelled, in the name of efficiency, today’s acceptable euphemism for laziness and greed. Cropped to the edge with spring-sown maize, year upon year, when the late winter storms came nothing could hold the top layer of soil from being scoured, and a stream formed around the little willow, undermining it. This tree was part of the informal hedging our friend had planted below the field edge, six feet on her side of the fence.

Now the willow lay across the bench that commands a view across lawns, trees, bushes and beds, bulbs in season, and always the birds. This tree had grown from an osier thrust into the ground and now had half a dozen stems, twelve feet tall and more. Only one was near vertical, the one that before the landslide had leant towards the field. I set myself to rescue the bench by cutting back each leaning trunk to a vigorous vertical shoot while leaving that one upright trunk to point the way.

There were plenty of shoots to choose from, some of them six feet high already. Unchecked, the weight of this vegetation would have brought the willow right down onto the bench and maybe have broken it.

I would have enjoyed having Dermot with me, with his love of trees and quirky insights, but had to commune with myself and Whoever might be listening. And I had to listen to the tree: where do you want to grow? How can I get you back to a pleasing shape? And my apologies for tearing a strip off your bark, misjudging that first cut across the front of the stem.

Squirrels had barked the tree before me: did they use it as a painkiller? A few days later, Dermot didn’t think so; he says they’ll go for any bark, just to be destructive. Dermot doesn’t like squirrels.

Job done as the ladies returned from the village; logs, pea-sticks and rubbish sorted. ‘Wait’, our friend said, as the barrow was laden with bonfire fodder. She took a handful of vigorous twigs and thrust them into the soil nearby. ‘You never know!’

I wonder: the next time we come, perhaps they will be six feet and we will know they have taken.

More Firsts: Little Things

More Firsts: Little Things

Not yet have we heard the first cuckoo of Spring, but even so: the first local strawberries, tastier than Spanish imports; the first rose of summer, sprung in time to welcome St George, though neither white nor red factions would have worn the yellow Mermaid in their lapels, no doubt deeming it more patriotic to boast imports from Ecuador in their tribal colour; the first clamouring baby blackbirds and magpies in different neighbours’ gardens – though not in ours which is still a building site; cow parsley everywhere, even on the altar at church; the first cut of what grass remains in the Turnstone garden; so it is time to say, with the Welsh poet,

Good morning Life

And all things glad and beautiful. W.H.Davies.

Davies gives us a reminder that St David on his deathbed urged the people of Wales to be faithful to the little things; WHD is by no means the only Welsh poet to live up to this command. Dylan celebrated small town life Under Milk Wood.

One little thing leapt out at me the other morning: I walked round the corner to find that the back garden wall is a mass of purple wall-toadflax. A few years ago we were at St David’s Cathedral, where the boundary wall carries a thriving colony of a white variety of this beautiful little thing. I hope no zealous tidier-up of unconsidered trifles ever weeds them all away. The Turnstone toadflax can rest easy. Even if Mrs Turnstone does turn her hand to repointing our wall, there will always be a crack for a seed to take root and start the colony again.Image