Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) has often been ridiculed – she features in Nicholas T. Parsons’ The Joy of Bad Verse – but even her detractors have to admit that ‘Solitude’ succeeds, and certainly remains successful as a piece of poetry about solitude. Anthony Burgess memorably rewrote the poem’s opening two lines as ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.’
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 large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
If you enjoyed ‘Solitude’, you might also enjoy Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s ‘Dawn’.