In Praise of Idleness

TO-DAY I wanted to be idle; perhaps because it is so exceptionally lovely, or because the carpenter is working in the yard down below, or because the sun is shining, or for a thousand other reasons. I wanted to be idle.

I did not want to go out for a walk, for walking is not idleness; nor to read or sleep, for neither the one nor the other is idleness; nor to amuse myself nor to rest, for idleness is neither amusement nor rest. Idleness, sheer, perfect idleness, is neither pastime nor distraction; it is something negative; it is an absence from all the things which occupy, amuse, distract, interest, sadden, delight, impress, importune, bore, fascinate, attract, or disgust a man. It is a nothing, a negation, an aimlessness. It is something perfect and rare.

In the first place, idleness is not wasting time. I should be wasting time if, for instance, I were to draw water in a sieve. But when I am being idle that is just what I do not do; I do nothing unnecessary, for I do nothing at all.

In the second place, idleness is not the mother of wickedness; it cannot be the mother of anything, being completely barren. Its affections do not go out to anyone, for if they did it would not be idleness; it would be doing something, it would have an aim.

In the third place, idleness is not laziness. To be lazy is to omit doing something that one ought to do and to want to take it easy instead. To be idle is to do nothing at all and not to want anything while not doing it.

To be idle is not even to rest. If you are resting you are doing something useful; you are preparing for further work. Idleness is without relation to any past or future work; it has no results and looks forward to nothing.

Nor is idleness the enjoyment of repose. To bask in the sunshine, to blink blissful eyes, to purr like a cat, all this is an activity which serves some purpose, for it is at least enjoyable; and enjoyment for its own sake is something like an aim. Idleness is absolutely aimless; it seeks neither repose nor pleasure, absolutely nothing.

Repose is a slow and even-flowing stream which silently bubbles and sways; rest is a dark and peaceful pool on which float the rubbish and foam of bad or violent moments; laziness is a creek covered with green weed, slime, and frog spawn; but idleness is stationary — it has neither rhythm nor sound; it does not move forward. It does not give life to weeds or slime or gnats. Its waters are dead and transparent. However long it stands, it does not grow warm. It stands still and does not get grown over. It has neither direction nor contents nor taste.

I wanted to be idle to-day; no, I wanted not to want anything.

I want — what do I want, really? Nothing; for that really is idleness. To be like a stone, but without weight. To be like water, but without reflection.

To be like a cloud, but without movement. To be like an animal, but without hunger. To be like a man, but without thoughts. To gaze at the white paper, empty and smooth. To write nothing and to go on looking until (of its own accord) it covers itself with black writing, words, sentences, lines, from top to bottom; one page, and a second, and a third. And then — then not have to read it; with the immense self-evidence of real, profound idleness, not read it through at all, but turn my eyes on the first fly of spring which is crawling across the windowpanes, and not to see it. And then — but what does idleness want with a programme? Everywhere you can find something not to do, not to sec, and not to look at.

And when you have finished with being idle, you wake and you return as it were from another world. Everything is a little strange and far away, a trifle disagreeable and strained; and you feel so ... so queer that . . . well, you have to have a rest after your idleness. Resting, you have to yawn a little, and then laze about a bit, and then give yourself over to a certain repose; and only after that are you able to collect all your faculties and do something quite unnecessary.