Before I started reading William H. Davies’s 1908 book, Autobiography of a Super-tramp, I was only familiar with his most famous poem, Leisure, the opening lines of which are:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Armed with this minimal knowledge of his canon, I was hopeful Davies’s memoir about life as a tramp in North America and Britain might illuminate a new perspective about labor that I, who was complicit in the traditional notion of career, sorely needed. As Tomos Owen wrote in his afterword to the book, “the tramp threatens and challenges the prevailing ideas of a society predicated upon stability, rootedness, and commitment.”
This sounded promising. I wanted to threaten my prevailing ideas and those of society. It was particularly on my mind in the wake of a US presidential campaign, during which we were repeatedly reminded by both major parties of the centrality of work to the American mythos—that access to the good life is premised on a willingness to work hard—without any thought that human beings may be built for more than just work, that perhaps idleness may be our greatest aspiration. Continue reading