This post reflects the opinions of the author and is not intended to hurt the sentiments of anyone who is related to W.H Davies/ enjoys bad poetry/ makes a profession out of getting offended easily.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll begin.
Today’s post will be about nature. No particular reason. I was just running out of ideas so I looked around for inspiration and saw two things that caught my attention: 1. My feet and 2. Some nature. Luckily for you, I decided to write about the latter.
To be honest, I don’t know that much about nature. Well, I know that it’s important and stuff. I’ve studied about it in Environmental Science and I’ve learned that nature is important ’cause it has ecosystems. And biodiversity. And trees. I think trees are actually pretty cool.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I aced all the tests.
Alright, I’ll admit that I’m kidding. I didn’t ace the tests, and honestly, I’m an ardent environmentalist. Well, maybe not ardent. I don’t ride biodegradable unicycles or anything. But I recycle and I don’t litter. So I suppose that counts as novice environmentalism.
I was first introduced to the ingenious new concept of nature-loving by the poem ‘Leisure’ by W.H. Davies. I was quite intrigued when I first read it, at age eight. “No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” – I was left wide-eyed by the genius of the rhyme. Pass and grass! What mortal could devise such rhythm, such tempo? And the idea bewitched me: not having enough time to watch the squirrels hide their nuts – that was the story of my life! I began to revere W.H. Davies like a god. I quoted Leisure in every single essay and every single story I ever wrote (whether or not the topic was evenly vaguely related to nature), starting from an essay about man’s inability to enjoy the beauty of nature and ending with an essay about Adolf Hitler’s policies in Germany. I think I managed to attribute all of World War II to Hitler’s inability to just sit back and watch ‘the squirrels hide their nuts in grass’.
And now I feel like an idiot, because I’ve realized that what I’ve been quoting all along is just absolute rubbish. No offence meant to W.H. Davies or kin.
The very first line of the poem is, ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’. Oh my god. He wrote ‘stand and stare’. Stand and stare! Why would anyone in their right mind ‘stare’ at nature? The Oxford dictionary describes ‘stare’ as ‘look fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with one’s eyes wide open’. I really don’t think W.H. Davies meant to say that people should ‘look vacantly’ at nature. That’s actually entirely contradictory to what the poem is meant to say, i.e., that people should take more time to enjoy nature. Talk about the wrong choice of words.
I’ve been quoting grammatically inaccurate material for several years. That’s really bad for the reputation of a Grammar Nazi.
It gets worse. “No time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep or cows.” He used ‘stare’ again. And now he’s saying we should stare like farmyard animals do. He seems completely out of his mind, if you ask me. To be fair, it’s possible that his wi-fi was down when he was writing this poem, so he couldn’t Google for synonyms of ‘stare’ or words that rhyme with ‘boughs’.
I’ll admit that the rest of the poem was much more sensible than the shaky, somewhat repetitive beginning. But then he says, “No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.” Stars in the day? It’s possible that there is a deep philosophical meaning hidden somewhere in there, but inexplicably, ‘ingestion-of-forbidden-substances’ is the only rational explanation that comes to mind.
Look at me, critiquing literature and all.
The reason for this rant is that I was recently reading essays by middle school children on the topic ‘nature’ and each one of them had quoted Leisure. Moreover, some had even gone so far as to paraphrase Davies with worrying results. “I love to stare at nature – I do it all day.” “It is important for man to take some time out of his busy day to stare at nature.” “Like the famous poet W.H. Davies says, man should stare at pigs and cows.”
It almost gives one the feeling that this is one of the tasks on Man’s daily checklist:
1. Go to work. Check.
2. Pick up the dry-cleaning. Check.
3. Stare at nature. Check.
Almost wants to make me become an anti-environmentalist.
And this is why I don’t like Leisure anymore. When I was younger I thought it was the epitome of poetic perfection, because it rhymed and everything. Now I think it’s preachy, grammatically incorrect, clichéd and overused. And that’s why schools that want to promote environmentalism should stop teaching children Leisure and should get them to read newspapers instead.
It’ll frighten them into becoming unicycle-riding environmentalists, I promise.