In the 7th and 8th grades, we were obliged to take “auditorium”–a class designed to give students an opportunity to stand facing a crowd of listeners–the most dreaded situation in all of life, according to many.

I remember playing my accordion once. Other than that, it is only poetry readings I remember–“I think that I shall never see…; Oh Captain, my captain…; “I never saw a purple cow…”; “twas brillig in the slithy toves…”

But from all those overworked regulars, I remember standing to read Solitude. (In some cases we were required to memorize. Remember MEMORIZE? It is not a skill thought worthy of the effort in most of today’s elementary classes. They have RAM chips for that anymore.)

From this poem by Ella Wilcox, I recall the first two lines only. I’m guessing they are familiar to some of you. Beyond that, it was only so many words at age 12.

But the incisiveness and cogency of this rhyming truth hit me full in the teeth this morning, a half-century later.

And more than that, I will not say, lest my words be lost on the air.

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.

Published by fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow. I don’t think I ever heard any but the first two lines. I am sad that a woman wrote that. My belief is that women are better friends than men at sticking with their suffering friends. I know I try to be.

  2. I’ve experienced the negative side of leaning on “friends” and found them repulsed by the confidence. And yes, I think this is a greater guy-problem, sadly. But I believe the poet has a pretty wide and clear view of human nature.

    We are drawn towards stories with happy endings, all the more in our day where that is the dramatic formula for so much of our consumed media. Let the script bring up a minor key even briefly, many of us switch channels.

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