by 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 implies taking time out from being busy.
Rhetoric is an art of discourse. Davies asks the rhetorical question, “What is this life?” He implies that pacing is an essential consideration. In his book Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman imagines a world where time stands still. If time stood still, and we weren’t about to run out of it, or fail to accomplish our aims within designated time allotments, we might be better at standing and staring. When time stands still, everything around you seems to stop. I intend to stand and stare. I’ve got a lot to learn by emulating sheep and cows. Sheep and cows personify leisure.
My attraction to subtlety grew when, after practicing yoga for some time, it became apparent that transformative change occurred more powerfully in subtle realms. Provided that I pause long enough and pay attention to subtleties, then I might see where the squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
In the fourth couplet, Davies suggests that daytime is the time to thrive, He implores us to embrace the light as we would if we were star gazing at night. I remember nights in northern Wisconsin during my childhood when we’d lie on our backs on the ground waiting for the thrill of shooting stars to appear. It never occurred to me that I was frittering away my time.
Davies says that Beauty dances. I’m consciously open and looking forward to moments when I can see Beauty dance.
In the next couplet Davies suggests that Beauty can get short changed if we only stick around long enough to glimpse its smile. Instead, he encourages us to watch it envelop the entirety of a mouth. John Prine said, “A clown puts his makeup on upside down, So he wears a smile even when he wears a frown.” If you can’t find enough time to listen well to John Prine, then you are at risk of making the mistake of thinking that a frowning clown couldn’t be smiling.
Regardless of whether you are on a figurative or literal journey of your own, I implore you to join me in my commitment to stand and stare. In another one of his books, In Praise of Wasting Time, Alan Lightman mentions the irony of increasing isolation in our hyper connected world. Becoming disconnected is the result of being so over connected. Disconnection begs for connection. Going outdoors keeps my spirit alive and my connection intact. My surroundings are my teachers. I’m more likely to encounter simple, subtle truths and to experience the rapture of being alive by taking time to stare at nature.