February 21, 2011

Wilcox: Weep, and you weep alone

On February 21, 1883, the New York Sun published the poem "Solitude." Its author, Ella Wheeler (later Mrs. Wilcox) received $5 for it. It became immensely popular - to the point where it "became hackneyed," she admitted in her autobiography. In that book, she also explained the inspiration for the poem.

Earlier that month in 1883, Wilcox donned a white gown before boarding a train in her home state of Wisconsin. She saw a fellow passenger, dressed all in black. That woman was deeply saddened by the recent death of her young husband and, after talk with her, Wilcox felt that her pleasant trip had been ruined by the somber conversation. Soon, however, reunited with friends, she easily forgot the unpleasant experience and almost felt guilty. She was immediately inspired to write the opening lines to what became her most famous poem:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
         Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
         But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
         Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
         But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
         Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
         But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
         Be sad, and you lose them all;
There are none to decline your nectar'd wine,
         But alone you must drink life's gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
         Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
         But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
         For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
         Through the narrow aisles of pain.

1 comment:

  1. I had never seen the full poem before. The full version adds sincere depth to the relatively cliche first two lines.

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