Amy Lowell laments the loss of leisure.

The idea of leisure is almost un-American, in its disregard for achievement, efficiency, and time-management. Do you deep down suspect that to enjoy leisure is to be lazy? Laziness has no part in leisure as Amy Lowell knows it to be, which is as a Presence to be cherished for its “teeming vigor.” To abandon oneself to “unmeasured time,” and the silences and delights of Now, is to make ready to receive gifts that God can’t give us when we are scurrying to and fro.

Before cell phones, which tempt us to flit about from a text message to a game to an Instagram photo, those in less-developed countries might at least have enjoyed leisure, as Richard Swenson wrote about in his book Margin. They are often poor, and have short life spans, but he found that they were happier than we who are continually in the red as regards time, if not money. The number of people in the world without cell phones has surely shrunken drastically since he wrote.

Leisure: the Basis of Culture is a title and a truth (by Josef Pieper).


Leisure, thou goddess of a bygone age,
When hours were long and days sufficed to hold
Wide-eyed delights and pleasures uncontrolled
By shortening moments, when no gaunt presage
Of undone duties, modern heritage,
Haunted our happy minds; must thou withhold
Thy presence from this over-busy world,
And bearing silence with thee disengage
Our twined fortunes? Deeps of unhewn woods
Alone can cherish thee, alone possess
Thy quiet, teeming vigor. This our crime:
Not to have worshipped, marred by alien moods
That sole condition of all loveliness,
The dreaming lapse of slow, unmeasured time.

–Amy Lowell

15 thoughts on “Amy Lowell laments the loss of leisure.

  1. I always smile when I find posts or articles like this one. I smile in sympathy, and very gentle amusement at sentences like this: “Before cell phones, which make us flit about from a text message to a game to an Instagram photo…”

    Cells phones don’t make us do anything, any more than televisions, gameboys, iPads, or computers make us do this or that. We are the ones in control, and we have quite a bit more power to decide the use of our time than we like to imagine. I’m speaking to my own sweet self as much as to you, because I’m one who used to say, “I wish I had more time.”

    After I physically rid myself of television some years ago, and decided not to engage in texting, social media, and such, it opened up a good bit of time, and certainly opened up space for attentiveness to other things. While I understand the usefulness of things like Facetime and texting, I’m here to bear witness to the fact that it’s still possible to engage with the world without them.

    Less chronos, more kairos,, that’s my motto!


    1. Dear Friend Linda,

      Thank you for your gentle and smiling correction, which I gladly take, and have changed a word – because I also do not believe that we are made to do anything. Perhaps my original word reveals my own lack of discipline with my phone. I know it is easier for us who didn’t grow up with instant social media to resist the temptations – It’s just so easy to look at one’s phone and get fairly passively drawn in, especially when all your friends want you to be available 24/7 and you feel that you are missing something or someone. My own peers are not on their phones all the time – we have broader lives and much more true leisure. And my grandchildren are aware of the problem and try to put their phones away, at least when I am visiting. 🙂 But some of them have not learned a habit of using their disposable time in fruitful ways.

      Probably the availability of mobile messaging and such like has empowered entrepreneurs in the developing countries, so that they are able to be hustling more and getting ahead financially. They may not even have time to play games or post on Instagram – but there again, the pressure is on to be available to the global world in all its time zones. I got halfway through a book titled 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary which is all about this unfortunate situation that has developed. Maybe I need to finish it, disturbing as it is!


      1. Do you know the work of Sherry Turkle? If not, get thee to Amazon, and order this. All of her work is good, but that book is especially insightful. .

        As it happens, my new post tells a story that I discovered without the aid of a single electonic device. I suspect even Google or Siri couldn’t have surfaced it. All it took was a little looking around, and a little face-to-face conversation. Of course my computer aided my research — I’m no Luddite! But there’s much in life never seen, because so many are looking at their screens.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you again, Gretchen, for your insights.  I confessed insincerity at my last confession. I think that trying to know more than is good for us makes us superficial and insincere. We are so addicted to being “entertained”.  In some of my travels outside the country, I found people who had a low opinion of Americans, not because of politics, but because of the Hollywood mentality.  Americans can be so superficial.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to read this; yesterday afternoon after we got home from
    church I made a specific effort to have a leisurely afternoon and be in my backyard. It was so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your sentence, “To abandon oneself to ‘unmeasured time,’ and the silences and delights of Now, is to make ready to receive gifts that God can’t give us when we are scurrying to and fro.” It may be my favorite of all you have written, may be….I only have a flip cell phone and not a smart phone. I consider getting one as there might be advantages, but I know there would be disadvantages, too…So far, I resist.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Isn’t it interesting though how phones have taken over our very conception of what to do in the face of even five minutes unstructured time? How acceptable it is now to be chin down to a screen, even in company? Here I am typing, instead of crocheting my new project or finishing my wonderful book. Though admittedly I do think that blogging is a whole different thing. Still constructive, still real, in a social media sort of way!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m so old school. I don’t even own a cell phone and the home phone we have has an answering machine that screens our calls so we don’t run for nothing ( like telemarketers and survey takers). I have leisure time to enjoy and I try to sit and have a peaceful cuppa every afternoon. Especially as the years pass by ever more quickly I find it necessary to slow down.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes! Slow, unmeasured time. Enjoying the day fully without worrying about time “running out.” That’s what I’ve been trying to capture since retiring. Relaxing fully, shutting off electronics, no tightly scheduled calendar. It’s hard to do after all these years, but I’m trying! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I recently listened to a Mars Hill Audio which had an interview specifically about leisure. I think it might be the next to the last one- sorry I don’t have the number right now. But- it was fascinating because they talked about the definition of leisure, and what it means to work, and specifically (my fav), the concept of the 8th day. As as person who has increasingly found it difficult to take leisure time, I am cognizant of this. And also- I think that, earlier in in my life, I found a good balance of leisure time. Due to some good circumstances, I anticipate that I will be back to finding leisure again, soon. I suppose I would need to write an essay to explain entirely what I have learned about true “leisure.” The Mars Hill Article was the next to the latest, I think. I can check if anyone is curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I listened to that one – it’s on #133, a conversation with Paul Heintzman… Oh, yes, I certainly did listen to it, because afterward I bought Heintzman’s book for my goddaughter who is uncomfortable when she is not acting the role of the high achiever. I hope that you do find lots more leisure time yourself and that in it you will enjoy writing essays for me to read 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I wrestle with taking time for leisure. I have always taken an afternoon coffee or tea break and that stays with me still. But I find that I take more time for watching YouTube videos when I have a little extra time….trying to learn something new to do! Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good evening, Gretchen! Screen time is something I’ve battled with for years. And it definitely got worse when I got a smart phone. I am getting better about it, but I do have days when I feel positively plastered to the screens! I don’t know why. But those days tend to be less often and I love taking breaks during the day to do some needlework. I try to keep the tv off and only classical music playing most days to create a peaceful environment.

    Have you watched the Victorian Slum series on PBS? It’s quite educational. Modern people living as if they are back in the slums of late 1800’s London. Poor people back then (and even today in some places) lived hand to mouth and probably found leisure time to be a rare luxury. These days we have it so much better that we can actually have leisure time if we want it. Yet we so often choose to fill our days with busyness.

    I’m always thankful to be reminded to slow down, so thank you! Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for the book references. They sound worthwhile. I got on my library’s request list for each one. Regarding Amy Lowell’s poem, it seems to hit us pretty hard (“This our crime”), but the next phrase reminds us that we are reading poetry, not history or philosophy.

    Not satire either, though Mark Twain could have weighed in on the topic. Considering what he thought of the telephone, Twain would surely have a few sharp words about our modern communication gadgets and their inventors.
    e.g., this excerpt from

    “. . . Twain quite clearly at times stated his disgust for the telephone. In a Christmas piece for the New York World, he wrote:

    “‘It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us . . . may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss– except the inventor of the telephone.'”

    Liked by 1 person

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