Dubai Diaries: Do you have time to 'stand and stare'?

The famous lines from a W.H. Davies poem ring true even today.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 11 Jan 2022, 10:38 AM

Last updated: Tue 11 Jan 2022, 6:45 PM

As a child I remember being taught the poem Leisure by W.H. Davies - famous for its lines “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.” Davies muses on the beauty and joys of nature and how people with their busy lives have little or no time to appreciate these gifts from the universe.

From a child’s perspective, I was most fascinated by the “and stare as long as sheep or cows” line, wondering, did these animals actually stare that much?

I promised myself I would observe closely the next time I came across one of them.

Of course this didn’t happen because the only animals I spotted in Dubai at the time were camels, majestic in their slow strides across the sands, true kings of the desert. I felt our school bus always eyed them with respect.

Other animals that turned up in our neighborhood of Karama were cats of all sizes and temperaments, who didn’t stop and stare at anything in particular, unless it involved rustling plastic bags with the promise of food in them.

After reading Davies’ poem, I began to wonder if camels took out time to stare; they seemed a little on the thoughtful side, like they were always thinking of or considering something.

Someone said I was missing the point of Davies’ words; the poem was actually about humans taking a break from their life full of worries and appreciating nature.

But as a ten-year-old with an overactive imagination thanks to writers like Enid Blyton, my worries were more of the fantastical kind. Like, did the Faraway Tree - with its multitude of magic folk - really exist? Would I stumble across it someday, like Jo, Bessie and Fanny did in The Enchanted Wood?

A friend wiser beyond her 10 years insisted that with my mind preoccupied with stories, I was not doing enough staring in real life. “Look around,” she proclaimed, sweeping her arms around the school playground dramatically. “This is the life Davies wanted us to see.”

I muttered something about there being no sheep or cows, or squirrels with nuts to hide in grass. In fact, there was no grass here at all - our playground at the time was a gigantic sandpit.

I look back on that memory with amusement now. I realise how as children we tended to take everything literally, whether it was something we read or a story we were told.

But I feel despite what my friend said at the time, I did stand and stare, ever so often. As a child, I absorbed and felt things in my immediate surroundings much more deeply, than I ever perhaps do now as an adult. I was absorbed by stories and lore, but never preoccupied.

Maybe childhood was a different kind of ‘stand and stare’ that had nothing to do with taking time out to look at nature amidst a host of cares and worries.

It was a ‘stand and stare’ filled with unconditional wonder, sans judgment or expectation, which I imagine was the feeling Davies hoped to inspire in people who happened to come across Leisure.

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