"More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness. Every day the world grows noisier; I, for one, will have no part in that increasing clamour, and, were it only by my silence, I confer a boon on all."
George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), pages 13-14.
This is an elaboration of Pascal's famous dictum: "I have often said, that all the Misfortune of Men proceeds from their not knowing how to keep themselves quiet in their Chamber." Blaise Pascal, Pensees (translated by Joseph Walker) (1688).
Alas, those who wish to change the world -- politicians, social engineers, media mouthpieces, and their ilk -- are unlikely to read, much less take heed of, Pascal and Gissing. Thus, the rest of us must do our best to mitigate the Sisyphean antics and the noisy noisomeness of these busybodies by keeping our wits about us and by remaining idle and quiet.
Percy Horton, "The Road to the Fells, Ambleside" (c. 1943)
Mind you, we shouldn't confuse idleness with inactivity or lassitude, as Andrew Young points out. One must be vigilant and attentive in order to be idle.
God, you've so much to do,
To think of, watch and listen to,
That I will let all else go by
And lending ear and eye
Help you to watch how in the combe
Winds sweep dead leaves without a broom;
And rooks in the spring-reddened trees
Restore their villages,
Nest by dark nest
Swaying at rest on the trees' frail unrest;
Or on this limestone wall,
Leaning at ease, with you recall
How once these heavy stones
Swam in the sea as shells and bones;
And hear that owl snore in a tree
Till it grows dark enough for him to see;
In fact, will learn to shirk
No idleness that I may share your work.
Andrew Young, Collected Poems (Rupert Hart-Davis 1960).
A side-note: "Nest by dark nest/Swaying at rest on the trees' frail unrest" is particularly nice, I think.
Percy Horton, "Storm over Loughrigg" (c. 1943)
Indeed, idleness is an essential element of a well-lived life, as pointed out by Kathleen Raine in the following untitled poem.
Your gift of life was idleness,
As you would set day's task aside
To marvel at an opening bud,
Quivering leaf, or spider's veil
On dewy grass in morning spread.
These were your wandering thoughts, that strayed
Across the ever-changing mind
Of airy sky and travelling cloud,
The harebell and the heather hill,
World without end, where you could lose
Memory, identity and name
And all that you beheld, became,
Insect wing and net of stars
Or silver-glistering wind-borne seed
For ever drifting free from time.
What has unbounded life to do
With body's grave and body's womb,
Span of life and little room?
Kathleen Raine, The Oval Portrait (1977).
Percy Horton, "A Corner of Ambleside" (c. 1943)