Solitude

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Solitude

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.

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This poem is a twenty-four line work, separated into three octaves (8 lines), with each of the octaves maintaining a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE, though the lines do not have a consistent meter.

Stanza One:

The first stanza is a series of statements which make the argument that happiness and joy are emotions joined by others, whereas grief or sadness are endured alone. Lines three and four explain – from the perspective of the Speaker – how this works:

For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.

The world is drawn to happiness or laughter, because the only way for it to obtain those things is to borrow them from those who feel them. Alternatively, as the world has plenty of sadness and trouble, on its own, it avoids those who are sad.

Lines five through eight repeat this concept, replacing laughing with singing, and weeping with sighing.

Stanza Two:

The next octave repeats the same concept as the first, but replacing the reactionary earth this time with human beings. Lines thirteen and fourteen personalize the message succinctly:

Be glad, and your friends are many
Be sad, and you lose them all,—

The picture painted by the Speaker, of her fellow man, is not a positive one. However, it also seems to be, to a degree, a poem of advice. She states that one can drink “nectared wine” with friends but must drink “gall” alone.

Stanza Three:

In the third stanzas, the comparisons between the effects of positivity, and negativity, continue. The feeling that the Speaker is giving advice grows as well. In this stanza, rather that merely giving advice on how to have friends, and how to avoid not having them, the Speaker admits that eventually one must face solitude either way. Even if one is able to avoid being alone for most of his or her life, it is unavoidable as we approach death.

Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
    But no man can help you die.

In the last two lines, she likens pain as also being unavoidable.

But one by one we must all file on
    Through the narrow aisles of pain.

At the end of the poem, the Reader is then armed with advice on how best to live, but also prepared by the Speaker’s warning that some things are inevitable and must be faced alone. She seems to be advising the Reader not to embrace solitude, but to be prepared for it.

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