Monday, May 14, 2018

Sometimes it's Sheila Claydon

I lead a very busy life, the same as most of you no doubt. Given the choice I would opt for a 36 hour day. That way I would stand a better chance of fitting everything in. Of course I'm perfectly well aware that busy, busy, busy is not the best way to live; a philosophy the poet William Henry Davies (1871-1940) explained far better than I can in his famous poem 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.
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 'til 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.

William Davies took this to extreme by living the life of a hobo and tramp both in the US and the UK for a significant part of his life, and he never did settle into paid employment. Eventually, however, through sheer doggedness and determination, he began to earn a living through his writing, and eventually became one of the most popular poets of his time. In later life he became friends with many of the literary figures of the day and also socialised with famous artists and members of the higher echelons of society. The sculptor Jacob Epstein crafted a model of Davies' head and Augustus John painted his portrait. 

Since his death many of his works have been given a musical setting and songs have been written using the words from his poems. Not bad for a hobo who not only lost a leg as a result of trying to jump a freight train at Renfrew, Ontario, but who left school at age 14 under a cloud for being a member of a small gang who stole handbags. 

There is so much more to his life, and so many poems and stories all of which can be found on the Internet, but the best is him reading his own poem, Leisure.  I have always had an aversion to listening to poets read their own works because so many of them adopt a style that is either drearily monotonous or delivered with too much emphasis on rhythm, both of which distract this particular listener from the actual words. Actors, on the other hand, will often paint a picture with their voices and, by doing so, manage to convey the true meaning of the poem. This is a generalisation of course and I would have to listen to a great many more poets before I could prove my point. William Henry Davies is, however, the exception that proves the rule. Just watch the virtual film that uses his real voice as he recites his poem Leisure at and it is immediately clear that he means every word. 

So much for William Henry Davies, but what about the rest of us? Very few people can lead his sort of life, or would even want to, but what we can take from it is the need to stand and stare from time to time. I have help with this in the form of a small dog who tells me, without fail, every day, that she needs a walk, and because I am lucky enough to be surrounded by fields and woodland, we both find the time to stand and stare, even when it's raining or blowing a gale. I don't always want to go but I'm always so pleased I did by the time I return home again. Even the bare skeletons of trees in winter have a beauty that is worth watching, but it's not always bare trees. Sometimes it's bluebells.

Who could fail to feel uplifted on a walk like this, one that helped to inspire my book Mending Jodie's Heart. Set in my local countryside it eventually became the When Paths Meet trilogy, a family saga with three different romances at its heart. Without taking the time to stand and stare I might never have thought of it.

Details of all my books can be found at and at 

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