Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sidetracked by rainbows

Grace ... in memory of W.H. Davies

Snowed in with plans to visit a friend sidetracked. 

What to do? How to spend my day?

I’m “in progress” on making a memory book for the friend whose visit I’m missing so I decided to work on that project. All too soon, I’m sidetracked by a whimsical image which pulls me into Photoshop. 

That was fun; now back to work.

However, before I go, another image offers me this quote from an unknown writer:

"It was the Rainbow that gave thee birth,
and left thee all her lovely hues."
-- William Henry Davies, Welsh poet

Who is this poet I’ve never heard of? Wikipedia tells a story I didn’t expect after reading the lovely quote above. William Henry Davies had a hard life: his iron moulder father died when he was 3 and his mother sent him to live with his grandparents. He became a delinquent and then a “supertramp,” crossing the Atlantic at least seven times on cattle ships and doing seasonal work.

When he heard about the riches to be made in the Klondike, he set off to make his fortune. Along the way he lost his footing trying to jump a freight train and his foot was crushed under the wheels. His leg had to be amputated below the knee. Davies later said, “I was soon home again, away less than four months; but all the wildness was taken out of me.”

His life after the accident was grim, living rough on the streets of London and in shelters. Somewhere along the line though, he met poetry. He began writing his poems, trying to sell them door-to-door, burning all of them when that enterprise failed.

Poetry continued knocking and he self-published his first book of poetry at 34. When it was ignored, he began sending copies to wealthy people chosen from Who’s Who, asking them to send him the half crown price of the book. He sold 60 of the 200 copies printed.

One of the copies wound up with a journalist who recognized “…some of the freshest and most magical poetry to be found in modern books.” The journalist asked for a meeting and helped him publish his first trade edition of poetry. It was the beginning of the poet’s success.

George Bernard Shaw described Davies’ work as that of a “genuine innocent.” His biographer L. Hockey, said:

"It is as a poet of nature that Davies has become most famous; and it is not surprising that he should have taken nature as his main subject. He had lived close to the earth and in the open air, and had grown to love the countryside with its fields, woods and streams, its hedges and flowers, its birds and beasts, bees and butterflies, its sunny and cloudy skies and capricious moods: in short its infinite variety.”

Part of the speech which was given when Davies received an honorary degree from the University of Wales, included this description of him and his poetry.

“Natural, simple and unaffected, he is free from sham in feeling and artifice in expression. He has re-discovered for those who have forgotten them, the joys of simple nature. He has found romance in that which has become commonplace; and of the native impulses of an unspoilt heart, and the responses of a sensitive spirit, he has made a new world of experience and delight. He is a lover of life, accepting it and glorying in it.”

Sidetracked. The day is half gone and I have wallowed in the joy of being sidetracked. Almost like playing hooky, ignoring all the shoulds, meeting by happenstance a person, unknown before, but now living within me, inspiring me to persist when things seem hopeless. 

Seems like a fair trade-off. Maybe I should get sidetracked more often.

I reviewed several of Davies poems and found many of them dated in rhyme, sometimes charming, with glimpses of an indomitable nature. I wondered if his life taught him to put on a happy face … or maybe I’m just projecting. This one … “The Dark Hour” rang true, for me.

And now, when merry winds do blow,
And rain makes trees look fresh,
An overpowering staleness holds
This mortal flesh.

Though well I love to feel the rain,
And be by winds well blown --
The mystery of mortal life
Doth press me down.

And, In this mood, come now what will,
Shine Rainbow, Cuckoo call;
There is no thing in Heaven or Earth
Can lift my soul.

I know not where this state comes from --
No cause for grief I know;
The Earth around is fresh and green,
Flowers near me grow.

I sit between two fair rose trees;
Red roses on my right,
And on my left side roses are
A lovely white.

The little birds are full of joy,
Lambs bleating all the day;
The colt runs after the old mare,
And children play.

And still there comes this dark, dark hour --
Which is not borne of Care;
Into my heart it creeps before
I am aware.

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