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Leisure: The Poem, Summary, Analysis & Exercise


    Leisure - 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 and 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 live this if, full of care, 

    We have no time to stand and stare. 

    -W.H. Davies 

    A. Match the words with their meanings.

    a. stare 

    i. an area of trees [c]

    b. beneath

    ii. to improve the quality of something [d]

    c. woods

    ii. to look quickly at somebody or something [e]

    d. enrich

    iv. to look at somebody/something for a long time [a]

    e. glance

    v. under somebody or something [b]


    B. Answer the following questions. 

    a. Why is our life so miserable, according to the poet? 

    b. What do sheep and cows do in nature? 

    c. What do squirrels do in the woods? 

    d. What magic does Beauty perform? 

    e. How is human life, if observed carefully? 

    C. How do you spend your leisure time? Write a short paragraph.

    Summary - I

    William Henry Davies talks about modern life in this poem. The progress of civilization to modernity has several detrimental effects on human lives. It has snatched simplicity away from modern people. According to the poet, nowadays all that a person needs are care and comfort. One does not have the leisure to enjoy natural vibes. In this poem, Davies upholds the importance of nature and how it helps one to keep his spirit alive.

    In this poem, Davies talks about the importance of being close to nature. The poem begins with some examples of what one can do to exhale the stress out of one’s body. If one only cares about the body forgetting about how beautiful and soothing nature is, it will lead that person to spiritual poverty. Moreover, the poet makes use of imagery to portray the beauty in nature. All one has to do is to “stand and stare” at the simple activities of different creatures living close to nature.

    Meaning

    The meaning of the poem is not hard to decode. The simplicity of the poem gives readers an idea of how simple things can touch a person deeply. Moreover, the title of the poem, ‘Leisure’ highlights the fact that one should have to make time for one’s mind and soul. A person has to invest that time in simple activities. The poet provides some solutions that one can follow to keep his or her mind healthy. Moreover, the significance of the proximity with nature is the main idea of the poem.

    Structure

    ‘Leisure’ consists of seven couplets. It means there are a total of 14 lines in this poem. The poet uses a regular rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AA BB and it goes on like this. As an example, in the first couplet, “care” and “stare” rhyme together. Apart from that, there is also regularity in the metrical scheme of the poem. There are a total of 8 syllables in each line and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. It means each line contains four iambs. For this reason, the overall poem is composed in iambic tetrameter.

    Literary Devices

    Davies begins this poem with the use of irony. In the first line, the poet uses a rhetorical question. The following line contains irony. In the phrases such as “stand and stare” and “beneath the boughs” the poet uses alliteration. After the first couplet, each couplet begins with the phrase “No time”. The poet uses this repetition for the sake of emphasis. In the line, “And stare as long as sheep or cows”, he uses a simile. There is a metaphor in “Streams full of stars” and it is compared with the “skies at night.” Moreover, there is a synecdoche in the phrase, “Beauty’s glance.” The poem also contains personification and epigram as well. 


    Analysis of The Poem Leisure

    Lines 1–4

    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.

    In this poem, Davies talks about living a life that is “full of care”. One has to understand the meaning of this phrase before moving to the next line. Through this phrase, the poet refers to a person whose life is busy mostly with necessities meant only for the body. Hence, they don’t have enough time to work on their mind. The poet says they are so busy that they don’t even have the time to simply “stand” and “stare” at the simple things of nature. In the next couplet, the poet says in modern times, people have no time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as the sheep or cows.

    Lines 5–8

    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.

    In the following couplets, Davies talks about what modern humans avoid due to the lack of time in their busy schedules. It can also be true that they don’t even care about such things. But, the poet cares. In the first couplet of this section, he says people have no time to see the woods when we pass through it. People don’t even know where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. Thereafter, the poet refers to the streams that gleam in the daylight, like stars in the “skies at night.” This section reflects how people have detached themselves from nature. If one just takes a leisurely walk in the woods or stares at the streams in daylight, he or she can see those things.

    Lines 9–14

    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.

    Moreover, according to the poet, people have no time to turn to a beautiful girl and watch how her feet graciously move while she dances. Along with that, one doesn’t wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began. Here, the poet touches on an exciting idea. When one is about to smile, her eyes reflect the sense of happiness first. Then one can see how the emotion gets expressed through her face. In the last couplet, the poet remarks that a “poor life”, a metaphorical reference to mental poverty, is that of a person who doesn’t have time to stand and enjoy those things. The last couplet acts as a refrain.

    Historical Context of the Poem Leisure

    The poem, ‘Leisure’ by Davies was first published in his “Songs Of Joy and Others” in 1911. This poem was one of the best poems of Davies. But, at that time, the poem was not included in the five Georgian Poetry anthologies published between 1912 and 1922 by Edward Marsh. Richard J. Stonesifer traces the origin of the poem back to the sonnet by William Wordsworth, ‘The World Is Too Much with Us’. In his Critical Biography of Davies (1963), he says,

    But he went to school with Wordsworth’s sonnet “The world is too much with us”, and echoes from that sonnet resound throughout his work as from a few other poems. Philosophically, no other single poem can be said to form the basis of so much of his poetry. The celebrated opening of his wise little poem “Leisure” has its origins here.

    Summary - II

    Summary of the Poem ‘LEISURE’

    The poem leisure by William Davies is a satiric poem on a modern man. In the poem, Leisure, the poet, William Davies, tells us about the hectic routines of our daily life. He says that we have no time to stand and stare at the beauty of nature. In the first two lines, the poet asks a question about life that looks full of care though we have no time to see the beauty of nature. In the last stanza, poets answer this question.

    In the second stanza, the poet further explains his point of view that even we have no time to stand under the beautiful and green branches of trees. He wants us to realize how beautiful these trees are but we spare no moments to look at their beauty. Poet says that animals like cows and sheep are better than us who have time to enjoy the beauty of green trees.

    In the third stanza, the poet says that when we pass through tall trees, we do not spare some moments to stop and look at their beauty. These dark and tall trees provide beautiful scenery where squirrels or other small animals play and hide their food in the grass for the winter season. He again wants to make us realize that we are always in a hurry and miss enjoying these scenes of natural beauty.

    In the fourth stanza, William Davies depicts beautiful imagery that at day time when rays of the sun fall upon the water of streams and rivers and their reflection looks like stars in the sky at night. But our busy routines are a hurdle to enjoying such beautiful scenes and we miss them.

    In the fifth stanza, the poet personifies beauty as a beautiful young girl dancing with a smiling face. He again realizes that the busy routines of human beings deprived them to see the beauty of nature. When beauty is dancing, we cannot see her feet because of her busy life. 

    In the sixth stanza, the poet extends his point of view that beauty is scattered all around us but we can’t see it. As he personifies it as a beautiful girl; he says that we can’t see her smiling face. But we have no time to stand and stare at nature that can refresh us.

    In the last stanza, poets take pity on a human being. What a life is full of care! He says that if we have no time to enjoy nature; we are living a poor life. As human beings, we should spare some time to look at natural beauty spread all around us to enjoy life. He answers his question that it is a poor life without time to enjoy the natural beauty.

    Critical Appreciation of the Poem LEISURE

    In the poem Leisure, William Davies criticizes human beings of the modern world for their busy lives that made them busy enough that they have no time to enjoy the beauty of nature. The poet opens his poem with a question: is this life full of care? And at the end, he answers his question after analyzing human beings' life and named that life a “poor life” if we have no time to enjoy nature.

    He satirizes human beings and prefers animals that have time to see natural beauty. He says that we are so busy that we cannot enjoy the beautiful sceneries of nature. He provides beautiful imagery of the reflection of sun rays over a stream but we have lost our happiness and peace of mind. We remain busy in worldly pursuits and miss the delights of the natural world.      

    He tries to explain with figurative language and personifies beauty as a beautiful girl: one of the most beautiful creatures of the universe. He compares beauty as a beautiful dancing girl which should catch our attention but our busy routines make us blind. We can’t see her dance though she is dancing in front of our eyes. He says that we have no quest to explore the aesthetic beauty of nature.

    In the last lines, William Davies satirizes modern men's life and says it is a poor life if we have no time to entertain ourselves by nature. He summarizes the poem by saying that our life is full of hardships and worries.

    Use of Personification in the Poem

    A personification is a tool of figurative language where an inanimate object or an abstract idea is attributed to traits of living beings. William Davies beautifully personifies beauty as a beautiful dancing girl with a smile on her face. Her natural beauty is attributed to living beings’ traits like dancing, smiling and having feet. The use of personification in the poem increases its beauty and creates interest for readers.

    The Tone of The Poet

    The tone of the poet in the poem LEISURE is satirical. The poet satirizes human beings and prefers animals upon them who have time to enjoy nature. The diction is very simple and quite appropriate to the subject matter of the poem.

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