By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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.
About the poem
“Solitude” is probably Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s most famous poem. The idea for it came to her as she was traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the inaugural ball for the Governor. On her way to the festivities, she encountered a young woman dressed all in black, sitting across the train aisle from her and crying. Miss Wheeler sat next to her and tried to comfort her for the rest of the trip.
When they arrived, Wilcox was so unhappy that she did not want to attend the celebration. She recollected that when she looked at her own face in the mirror, she envisioned the grieving widow. It was then that she wrote the opening lines of “Solitude.” It was first published in an 1883 issue of The New York Sun.
About the author
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 – 1919) was born in Johnstown, Wisconsin. She was a journalist, and a poet who wrote extensively. Her poems were published in the Waverly Magazine and Leslie’s Weekly when she was just a teenager. She studied at the University of Wisconsin, but left after just a year to focus on writing.
Wilcox’s work appeared frequently in magazines such as Cosmopolitan. She wrote popular poetry, usually in a simple, rhyming style of verse. Her first book, Drops of Water (1872), was published when she was 22 years old. 60,000 copies of her book Poems of Passion (1883) were sold in just two years. Her other poetry collections include Poems of Experience (1910), Poems of Peace (1906), and Shells (1873).
Wilcox also published books of fiction, including A Woman of the World (1904), Sweet Danger (1892), A Double Life (1890), and Mal Moulée (1885), and two autobiographies, The Worlds and I (1918) and The Story of a Literary Career (1905).
She died of cancer on October 30, 1919 at her home in Connecticut.