Wednesday, 13 February 2019

W.H. DAVIES Poetry

W.H. DAVIES Poetry

William Henry Davies was born in Newport, Monmouth-shire, on 3 July 1871. His father died three years later and, after his mother’s second marriage, the boy was adopted by his father’s parents and brought up in their public house in Newport’s docklands. Apprenticed to a picture-framer at the age of fourteen, he acquired a love of art and, a wanderer from an early age, discovered a keen interest in nature on walks in rural Gwent. In 1893, with a small income left him by his grandmother, he set out for America where, unable to find regular employment, he became a hobo. In Ontario in 1899, on his way to the Klondyke goldfields, he fell from a train on which he was trying to hitch a ride, and his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. Having returned to London, he was fired with ambition to be a poet and in 1905, at his own expense, published his first book, The Soul’s Destroyer. His first income from writing came from The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) which, with a preface by George Bernard Shaw, brought him immediate fame. In 1911, largely through the offices of Edward Thomas, he was awarded a Civil List pension and some of his work was included in the anthology Georgian Poetry. Now keenly aware of his calling as a man of letters, he began frequenting literary and artistic circles in London. His marriage in 1923 to a former prostitute brought him a new source of inspiration; the story of their extraordinary courtship and happy marriage is told in Young Emma, published posthumously in 1980. The couple settled in the village of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, where, at his home ‘Glendower’, on 26 September 1940, the poet died. He had published some two dozen books between 1905 and 1939. The first edition of his Collected Poems (1928), although it contained 431 poems, was by no means complete; in the 1963 edition there were 749. His Selected Poems, chosen by Jonathan Barker, appeared in 1985. While most of his poems celebrate the beauty of nature, some touch on social injustice and the suffering of marginal people: there is a darker side to W. H. Davies than those who know only ‘Leisure’, one of the most famous poems ever written in English, care to think.

It was the Rainbow gave thee birth,
And left thee all her lovely hues;
And, as her mother’s name was Tears,
So runs it in my blood to choose
For haunts the lonely pools, and keep
In company with trees that weep.

Go you and, with such glorious hues,
Live with proud Peacocks in green parks;
On lawns as smooth as shining glass,
Let every feather show its marks;
Get thee on boughs and clap thy wings
Before the windows of proud kings.

Nay, lovely Bird, thou art not vain;
Thou hast no proud, ambitious mind;
I also love a quiet place
That’s green, away from all mankind;
A lonely pool, and let a tree
Sigh with her bosom over me.

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.

Can I forget the sweet days that have been,
When poetry first began to warm my blood;
When from the hills of Gwent I saw the earth
Burned into two by Severn’s silver flood:

When I would go alone at night to see
The moonlight, like a big white butterfly,
Dreaming on that old castle near Caerleon,
While at its side the Usk went softly by:

When I would stare at lovely clouds in Heaven,
Or watch them when reported by deep streams;
When feeling pressed like thunder, but would not
Break into that grand music of my dreams?

Can I forget the sweet days that have been,
The villages so green I have been in:
Llantarnam, Magor, Malpas, and Llanwern,
Liswery, old Caerleon, and Alteryn?

Can I forget the banks of Malpas Brook,
Or Ebbw’s voice in such a wild delight,
As on he dashed with pebbles in his throat,
Gurgling towards the sea with all his might?

Ah, when I see a leafy village now,
I sigh and ask it for Llantarnam’s green;
I ask each river where is Ebbw’s voice –
In memory of the sweet days that have been.

Sweet Chance, that led my steps abroad,
Beyond the town, where wild flowers grow –
A rainbow and a cuckoo, Lord,
How rich and great the times are now!
Know, all ye sheep
And cows, that keep
On staring that I stand so long
In grass that’s wet from heavy rain –
A rainbow and a cuckoo’s song
May never come together again;
May never come
This side the tomb.

The collier’s wife had four tall sons
Brought from the pit’s mouth dead,
And crushed from foot to head;
When others brought her husband home,
Had five dead bodies in her room.

Had five dead bodies in her house 
All in a row they lay 
To bury in one day:
Such sorrow in the valley has
Made kindness grow like grass.

Oh, collier, collier, underground,
In fear of fire and gas,What life more danger has?
Who fears more danger in this life?
There is but one – thy wife!

I took my oath I would inquire,
Without affection, hate, or wrath,
Into the death of Ada Wright –
So help me God! I took that oath.

When I went out to see the corpse,
The four months’ babe that died so young,
I judged it was seven pounds in weight,
And little more than one foot long.

One eye, that had a yellow lid,
Was shut – so was the mouth, that smiled;
The left eye open, shining bright –
It seemed a knowing little child.

For as I looked at that one eye,
It seemed to laugh, and say with glee:
‘What caused my death you’ll never know –
Perhaps my mother murdered me.’

When I went into court again,
To hear the mother’s evidence –
It was a love-child, she explained.
And smiled, for our intelligence. 

‘Now, Gentlemen of the Jury,’ said
The coroner – ‘this woman’s child
By misadventure met its death.’
‘Aye, aye,’ said we.The mother smiled.

And I could see that child’s one eye
Which seemed to laugh, and say with glee:
‘What caused my death you’ll never know –
Perhaps my mother murdered me.’

While joy gave clouds the light of stars,
That beamed where’er they looked;
And calves and lambs had tottering knees,
Excited, while they sucked;
While every bird enjoyed his song,
Without one thought of harm or wrong –
I turned my head and saw the wind,
Not far from where I stood,
Dragging the corn by her golden hair,
Into a dark and lonely wood.

When I went down past Charing Cross,
A plain and simple man was I:
I might have been no more than air,
Unseen by any mortal eye.

 But, Lord in Heaven, had I the power
To show my inward spirit there,
Then what a pack of human hounds
Had hunted me, to strip me bare.

A human pack, ten thousand strong,
All in full cry to bring me down;
All greedy for my magic robe,
All crazy for my burning crown.

When Mary Price was five years old,
And had a bird that died,
She laid its body under flowers;
And called her friends to pray to God,
And sing sad hymns for hours.

When she, before her fifteenth year,
Was ruined by a man,
The neighbours sought him out, and said –
‘You’ll come along and marry her,
Or hang till you are dead.’

When they had found the child he wronged,
And playing with her doll,
‘I’ll come along with you,’ said she –
‘But I’ll not marry anyone
Unless my doll’s with me.’

With no more love’s heat in her than
The wax upon her arm;
With no more love-light in her eyes
Than in the glass eyes of her doll –
Nor wonder, nor surprise.

When Mary Price was thirty-five,
And he was lying dead,
She wept as though her heart would break:
But neighbours winked to see her tears
Fall on a lover’s neck.

Now Mary Price is seventy-five,
And skinning eels alive:
She, active, strong, and full of breath,
Has caught the cat that stole an eel,
And beaten it to death.

Let us clie close, as lovers should,
That, if I wake when barn-cocks crow –
I’ll feel your body at my side,
And hear your breathing come and go.

When dreams, one night, had moved our bodies,
I, waking, listened for your breath;
I feared to reach and touch your face,
That it was icy-cold in death.

Let us lie close, as lovers should,
And count our breaths, as some count sheep;
Until we say ‘Good night’, at last
And with one kiss prepare for sleep.

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