W H Davies Manuscripts

William Henry Davies (3 July 1871 – 26 September 1940) was a Welsh poet and writer, known as the “tramp poet”. A manuscript copy of Davies' well-known poem "Leisure" was recently bought by the Library to add to its already impressive collection of W H Davies manuscripts.

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

The National Library of Wales has a collection of correspondence, poetry drafts, personal papers, photographs and printed works by W H Davies. Here are some highlights from the collection, but you can also search for W H Davies on the online catalogue.

Poetry

A manuscript copy of "Leisure", signed by W H Davies, and dated May 8th 1914 (NLW MS 23960B). The poem comprises seven couplets and was first published in Songs of Joy and Others (London, 1911). 

A holograph copy, [1910s], of 'A Boy's Sorrow', an apparently unpublished poem of two eight-line stanzas by W H Davies relating to the death of a neighbour. (NLW MSS 23875B)

A volume containing autograph fair copies, c. 1916, of 15 poems by W H Davies, some of them apparently unpublished, submitted to James Guthrie (1874-1952) for publication by the Pear Tree Press as a collection entitled 'Quiet Streams'; annotations have been added by Lord Kenyon. A letter, 1916, from Davies to Guthrie, originally loose in the volume, has been tipped in on f. 16. (NLW MS 23279C)

10 holograph poems, c.1913-1918, by W H Davies, namely ‘Heaven’, ‘The Mind’s Liberty’, ‘The Signs’, ‘The Moon’, ‘Rich Days’, ‘On the Mountain’, ‘The One Singer’, ‘A Strange Meeting’, ‘To My Thoughts’, and ‘Till I Went Out’; with also one other manuscript poem entitled, ‘The Dumb World’. (NLW MS 21629B)

2 holograph poems by W H Davies: ‘Molly’ and ‘The Force of Love’; two autograph letters, 1917 and 1918; and a review of W H Davies’s poetry by Herbert Edward Palmer. (NLW MS 19408C)

Printed copy of W H Davies, Forty New Poems (1918), with autograph postcard, 1920. (NLW MS 16571B)

Printed copy of W H Davies, New Poems (London: Elkin Mathews, 1907), dedicated to Helen and Edward Thomas, containing 2 holograph poems by W H Davies, namely ‘When Leaves Begin’ and ‘The Truth’. (NLW MS 18432A)

Correspondence

58 letters, 1905-1938, from the poet W H Davies (1871-1940), to various correspondents including the poets and critics Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong (`John Gawsworth'), John Freeman, Harold Monro and Edward Thomas. The letters are mainly concerned with Davies's own work and its publication. Also included are manuscript and typescript poems by W H Davies, and an inscribed photograph of the poet, early 1900s, apparently presented by him to Edward Thomas. (NLW MS 23806D)

13 letters from W H Davies, together with press cuttings, 1905-50s, and 4 printed poems, 1909-1925. (NLW MS 22003E)

5 letters, 1937-1939, 4 typescript and 1 manuscript, from “Will” (the poet W H Davies), Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, to his half-sister Alice Williams, in Newport, Monmouthshire, concerning personal and family news. (NLW MS 23699E, folios 60 – 65).

21 letters, 1951-62, to the collector E E Bissell (1910-98), of Ashorne, Warwick, all relating to the poet W H Davies (1871-1940), from various correspondents notably Davies's biographer, Richard J Stonesifer and other Davies enthusiasts. Also included are reproductions of 2 photographs of the poet, 1920s, taken at the home of the artist Sir William Nicholson and presented to Bissell by Richard Stonesifer. (NLW MS 23807E)

For further letters see NLW MS 21818E, NLW MS 22003E, and NLW MS 16343E, and for further references to W H Davies see NLW MSS 22906B, 22917C, 22918C, and 23019C.

Personal papers, photographs and printed works

Papers relating to the poet and author W H Davies (1871-1940), including:

Press cuttings, 1930-90 and undated, some concerning the unveiling, in 1990, of a statue in Newport to honour him; photocopies of the wedding certificate of his parents, 1864, his mother's second and third marriages, 1875 and 1891, and her death certificate, 1922

Menu, 1930, of a luncheon held at the Westgate Hotel, Newport, in his honour, with his signature; invitations, 1938, to the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to him and to luncheon (the menu bears the signature of W H Davies and John Masefield); programmes, 1971, of events to celebrate the centenary of his birth

A poem 'Tribute' to W H Davies' by Alison J Bielski, and poems by children from Newport commemorating the centenary and a first day cover; together with photocopies of photographs. (W H Davies Papers. NLW ex 1973)

Printed copy of W H Davies, Autobiography of a Super Tramp (London: A C Fifield, Second Edition, 1908, with a preface by G Bernard Shaw), with 2 autograph letters, 1908-9. (NLW MS 16572B)

A manuscript bibliography, c. 1958-79, compiled by Lord Kenyon, listing his collection of editions of published works of William Henry Davies and including notes on their provenance (NLW MS 23280B). Printed editions of the work of W H Davies, donated by Lloyd Tyrrell-Kenyon (1917-93), fifth baron Kenyon of Gredington, are held in the Department of Printed Books. Search the catalogue for details.

8 photographs connected with poet and author William Henry Davies (1871-1940). Most are family members but includes unveiling of a statue to him in Newport 1970 and a view of Prince Rupert, British Columbia where an uncle kept a shop. (Llyfr ffoto 2984 A)

Portrait drawing in chalk and ink by William Rothenstein (1872-1945) of W H Davies, 1921. PG00745. Digitised image on NLW catalogue.

Biographical details

William Henry Davies, poet and writer, was born in Newport. His father died when Davies was three, and, following his mother's remarriage, the children were adopted by their grandparents. Davies was educated at schools in Newport and afterwards apprenticed to a picture-frame-maker.

At the age of 22, he obtained a passage for New York, arriving in the United States with only a few dollars in his pockets. He thereafter began the career, which he described in his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) - tramping thousands of miles across America, most often begging but also undertaking casual work and riding illicitly on freight trains. En route to the gold-diggings at the Klondike, Davies fell under a moving train, severing his right foot; his right leg was subsequently amputated below the knee.

Davies eventually returned to Wales, and then moved to London, where he lived in common lodging-houses, pedalling wares and preaching on street corners. He finally found a publisher for his poems and, between 1905 and 1939, published several slim volumes of poetry. It was during this period also that Davies befriended the poet Edward Thomas and his wife Helen.

Davies produced 4 novels, including The True Traveller (1912) and The Adventures of Johnny Walker, Tramp (1926); other prose works included Beggars (1909), Nature (1914) and My Birds and my Garden (1933). He also edited several poetic anthologies and was joint editor of a monthly magazine called Form. Davies met his wife Helen at a bus stop in a poor part of London; they married in 1923 but had no children. Their relationship is celebrated in Love Poems (1935) and the posthumously published Young Emma (1980). Davies died at Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. The publication of W. H. Davies: Selected Poems in 1985 revived interest in the poet.

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