Centraal Station Antwerpen March 23, 2009
Solitude (a poem Feb. 25, 1883)
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth
Must borrow it’s mirth,
It has trouble enough of it’s 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 want 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 it cannot 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.
–Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Solitude“
“Solitude” was first published in the February 25, 1883 issue of The New York Sun. The inspiration for the poem came as she was travelling to attend the Governor’s inaugural ball in Madison, Wisconsin. On her way to the celebration, there was a young woman dressed in black sitting across the aisle from her. The woman was crying. Miss Wheeler sat next to her and sought to comfort her for the rest of the journey. When they arrived, the poet was so depressed that she could barely attend the scheduled festivities. As she looked at her own radiant face in the mirror, she suddenly recalled the sorrowful widow. It was at that moment that she wrote the opening lines of “Solitude”:
“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
“Weep, and you weep alone.”
She sent the poem to the Sun and received $5 for her effort. In May 1883, “Solitude” appeared in Wheeler’s book, Poems of Passion.