Thursday, October 9, 2008


Thursday, October 9, 2008

I don't usually find poetry as enthralling as a good novel, though I have always wished that I taken a class or two when I had the chance. I do love Edna St. Vincent Millay (as evidenced by an earlier post), and I've also been captivated by Tennyson and John Donne. One poem that I find most unforgettable, however, came from an artist considerably less distinguished and familiar: Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

I don't know a great deal about Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and I don't want to dwell too much on the little information that I garnered from Wikipedia (certainly not a reputable literary source!), but what is certain is that "Solitude", the poem that inspired this post, is her most well-known poem. Another gem that I discovered courtesy of my mom, the first time I encountered the poem I was in high school. While my memory of that day is fuzzy, I think I had experienced one of those typical melodramatic days so common for a young high school girl, and I had been complaining to my mother about it. She immediately quoted the first lines of "Solitude" and told me that I should find and read the whole poem. Now, I can't count the times I've read the poem. Here it is:

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 nectared 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 long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

I've always thought that this poem was full of wisdom, practical advice, even, for how to achieve the most happiness out of your life and relationships. At the time of my first reading, I was probably pining away after a silly high school boy. Little did I know that the most successful way to sustain a relationship was to exude happiness and contentment with myself. "Rejoice, and men will seek you; grieve, and they turn and go..." I'm not saying those lines are SPECIFICALLY referring to the nature of a man, because it's really true of everyone. I certainly don't want to belittle or minimize the sadness or loneliness that we often feel, but the inherent truth, so evident, particularly in the second stanza of this poem, is we really must struggle through our hardest times alone, at least in spirit. Even the closest of friends or best of mothers or sweetest of spouses can only go so far to carry our burdens. Ultimately, we have to overcome the inevitable difficulties of life ourselves, before we can return to our natural, happy states. I am certainly not suggesting this is an easy task, rather, that what the poem suggests is a good way to look at life. Know that there will be difficult times, but when you accept them and seek out happiness and fulfillment again, they'll return all the more quickly.

1 comment:

Hanne Tidnam said...

You know I love that Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that everyone knows, but no one really reads:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

It's such a bittersweet sad and still vibrant poem. Have you read Savage Beauty? It's one of the few biographies I loved and could not put down. And as much about the poetry as the woman. She was an amazing, wild lady.