Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s 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.


My mum has always told me “when you give off positive energy, the universe will give it back to you.” And ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox – to me – seems to denote this perfectly, along with illustrating the isolation that sadness and internal despair can bring. Wilcox begins by overtly proclaiming her message; ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you; / weep, and you weep alone.’ It seems to project the idea that the world – at least it seems so – abandons us in the depths of our despair, but supports and encourages us when we ‘laugh’ and are gleeful. Wilcox continues and personifies the Earth, pointing out that it ‘has trouble enough of its own’, and derives happiness from our human happiness; it cannot produce its own joy. Wilcox in this sense provokes our sympathy for the world’s lack of humanity, perhaps pointing out that despite the guarantee of hardship and woe that we are contracted to as human beings, we at least have the capacity to feel, which is something the world as a being does not have.

The second stanza moves on to point out more reasons to be happy and forget our sorrows. Wilcox reveals the consequences of remaining in gloom by escalating from the abandonment of the Earth, to the people in it. She warns that if you ‘grieve, and they turn and go’, ‘they do not need your woe’; ultimately highlighting that – somewhat like the Earth – people have enough problems within their own lives without being made known of yours. The final stanza emphasizes again, that happiness is like a magnet that will mean ‘your halls are crowded’ but sadness is a dire repellent and is an isolator we must all endure; ‘one by one we must all file on / through the narrow aisles of pain.’


Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

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