No time to stand and stare. You know the quote, don’t you?
Or do you?
‘What is this life if, full of care/ we have not time to stand and stare?’
[A classic example of the importance of commas, btw, but that’s not what I’m writing about.]
It’s taken from a poem called ‘Leisure’, one of a series of ‘Songs of Joy’ by Welsh poet –and tramp and novelist – William Henry Davies. He died in 1940. The poem was published in 1911.
Among the vagaries of his life was an accident jumping freight trains in Canada that left him without a foot and needing a wooden leg. He came back across the waves at that point, living rough in London doss-houses, writing poetry, self-publishing at a time when it was far from easy.
Out of that experience he drew his book, ‘Autobiography of a Super-Tramp’ – which reminds me of the band of that name. Supertramp did an album, ‘Breakfast in America’ that Davies might’ve liked, being fond of the place. But I’m meandering.
I didn’t know any of this odd, informational spice before today. I discovered it when I looked up the quote in my large, heavy, cardboard-and-paper Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
You see, I’d been thinking of writing a piece about butterflies (yes, the picture’s a butterfly not a dragonfly). About foxes and squirrels and birds. About trees and wind and clouds and – then I thought, why?
The thoughts wouldn’t blend into a coherent whole. It was as if the fairy dust falling from butterflies’ wings had seeped into my brain, turning it into sherbert. Fizzy and sharp and tasty – but not much use. And not for sharing.
Then I read a blog-post by Jennie Saia. I’ll give you the link at the end. She writes some very thought provoking pieces, Jennie. Sometimes I don’t have a clue what she’s saying. That storm-tossed Atlantic can thrash our separate versions of English to a pulp that makes us truly foreigners.
But on this one I was right there with her.
Reading about a world where women – ladies – feel they don’t need feminism because they like to cook, or want their pickle jars opening, or their refrigerators lifting, took me back to the butterfly.
What does it matter if I’ve seen a luscious, orange-brown Silver Washed Fritillary? Seen the Burnet Moth’s wings, red-splashed black? A shiny-furred chestnut fox with a white-tipped tail, or a blue jay mastering a peanut feeder?
What does it matter if a wasp drank from the side of the bird bowl? If a long-eared owl hooted a muted hoot from a perch in the nearest pine tree – in the daylight hours? If a peacock butterfly hesitated long enough for me to take its picture?
That’s why I couldn’t write it.
What does any of it matter?
I thought it mattered that I’d learnt to see and recognise and know these wonders of nature. I suppose it doesn’t.
It matters that they are there. That I had the time to stand and stare.
But you don’t need to know.
One jewel of the world around us was missing from my inventory of joyous nature – the dragonfly. Despite the water, fast evaporating in the decoratively-rusting steel bowl, no rainbow-fluttering, iridescent-winged creature had visited.
Then it did – and I missed it. Someone else saw it.
It doesn’t matter. The dragonfly is there, was there, somewhere.
That poet-tramp-novelist, WH Davies, knew the value of the beauty of things, could tell them in a way I can’t. I still feel, ‘well, so what?’
But, the trail was leading me somewhere.
No such thing as coincidence, of course, but, trudging around the internet, following Davies’ tracks, I wound up with Fleetwood Mac. Listen …
Davies’ words. Fleetwood Mac’s music. Now there’s a reason to sit and stare. To swoon.
It doesn’t matter if I can’t find a way to share my nature-fest with you – because someone else has done it better. Like Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. John Clare’s bird poems. Thomas Hardy’s Dorset hedgerows.
But it matters that I could, if I wanted. That people like Jennie (and I) can stand and stare at our world, think thoughts, lay them out for others to use as inspiration or incitement. Or dismiss.
Today the world is cool and grey. The double-helix-dancing butterflies are in hiding. And my brain is working. Indoors, where it belongs.
Too much sun doesn’t suit a British native, after all.
[Tip of my tongue blog by Jennie Saia]