Book – The Autobiography of a Super-tramp

Author of the poignant and powerful poem Leisure, William Henry Davies is arguably one of the most underrated writers to have emerged from the turn of the twentieth century. WHDavies pic

And yet, when you consider the fascinating and unconventional life that this Welsh man led, it is hard to understand why this is.

I was recently given an ancient copy of Davies’s autobiography, curiously entitled The Autobiography of a Super-tramp.

I was told that it was one of my grandfather’s favourite books, and assured that I would benefit from reading it.

In case the blog name didn’t give it away, I too am Welsh. My last name is also Davies, so I automatically felt some kind of affinity with William Henry Davies, as if – no matter how good the book actually is – I’d like him.

Luckily, the autobiography is in fact very good. Not that I thought this at first; it took me numerous chapters to actually engage with what Davies was saying. Usually I’d put a book down if it hadn’t gripped me by a quarter of the way through, but something about the book’s quiet, subtle and unassuming tone made me continue to turn the pages.

If you haven’t heard of this book, I can confirm that it actually is about living life as a hobo. Davies spent a lot of time in the UK and US homeless – sometimes sleeping in prisons just to escape the cold.

Parts of the book are written so beautifully I actually wanted to underline certain sentences so that I wouldn’t forget them – perhaps a legacy of my days studying English Literature at University.

I noticed that Davies is particularly talented when describing nature. For example, this paragraph had me spellbound for a good couple of minutes before I could tear my eyes away and continue reading:

At this place I remained several weeks, watching the smiling Spring, which had already taken possession of the air and made the skies blue – unloosing the icy fingers of Winter, which still held the earth down under a thick cover of snow.”

It goes on. Wordsworth, anyone?

As well as truly beautiful prose, much merit also lies in the book’s content. There is one chapter that relays a particularly tragic and significant moment in Davies’s life, and yet – in keeping with his nonchalant tone – it is described in such a way that does not agitate a reader, but only elicits sympathy.

If I’m completely honest, I need to read The Autobiography of a Super-tramp a second time in order to truly understand and appreciate it. But, after a first reading, all I can say is that this Welsh writer has made me proud of my country, and will never been forgotten.


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