Solitude, Ella Wheeler Wilcox – an analysis


Yes please! Some peace and quiet and book time, thank you very much. Oh. And wine. Wine please. Maybe some chocolate. And a snuggly blanket.

Gut Reaction
A friend in need is a friend indeed?

What does it all mean?
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.
For those who have people in our lives who only show up when life is good, this one is for you. Us. When you’re happy, everyone who fits this category is happy. But when you’re sad, who is there to prop you up? Nobody.
I feel like lines three an four are saying hey, everyone (on earth) has problems and have to get their joy from somewhere, even if it is at the expense of others.

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.
Well, when you are full of joy, happy, everything looks better and you can see the beauty in things – hills, for example. But when you’re sad, it’s maybe like a mist descending and you can’t see anything good at all – all good is ‘lost on the air.
The final two lines of this stanza talk seem more like further evidence stating the case for ‘when you’re happy, people are around, when you’re sad they disappear. It also feels like we’re saying if you say happy, joyous things you hear them back, but when you voice a concern those willing ‘speakers’ are fewer or disappear entirely.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
If you’ve something to celebrate there’s no short of people but when you need someone, a shoulder to cry on whilst you grieve perhaps, these people you thought you could rely on disappear.

They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
More repetition of the above, happy to share your good times but not your bad.

Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
Now these two lines are more or less another piece of evidence in the ‘people are rubbish’ theme that is this poem. It also feels a little like the author is tired of putting on an act .If they’re constantly having to play happy to keep the people they want around them and if they let the mask slip people get uncomfortable and leave.

There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
No one refuses the things they offer you but when you are going through bad times you have to do it alone. I love these two lines, a brilliant play on ‘drinking’ and the two sides are presented beautifully here within the recurrent theme.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Are we saying here that when things are plentiful people are around, but when times are tough they disappear? Of course we are. It’s what the author’s been saying all along.

Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
Is this a change of tack here? If you do well and are giving, these acts will enhance your life – sure, that makes a sense of sorts. But no one can help you die? Well. Technically that isn’t true if we’re taking it literally. If we’re not though. What does that mean? Does it mean that having one person in your life would give you such contentment you could die? Does it mean a person can comfort you when you are dying?

There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
Are we talking about the afterlife, or heaven? That we’re all waiting for eternal bliss, crammed into a line like beasts because of our religious convictions? We’re all welcome into heaven and we’ll all get there, we just have to queue up?

But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
We all face death alone? The final line, is this reference to the so called ‘tunnel’ we follow ‘into the light’ when we die?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
This is a ballade, poem of three stanzas each of eight lines.

It’s not very jolly, is it? It’s kind of resigned to giving up and being alone because people are just flakes. You could suggest it’s a bit ‘woe is me’ but that would be unkind since we’ve all been there at rock bottom, haven’t we?

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
I would say there are lots of metaphors through out – old earth, people of the world; hills, nature or the general beauty of things; nectard wine, success and wealth?, halls of pleasure, heaven?

Author’s relationship with their subject
It feels as though the author is writing to herself. I’d say the relationship is probably not a loving one if she feels so alone. Yet it seems as if the poem is more a story than a reflection on her own life since her poetry was written more to please herself than to please an audience.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
It seems that the general consensus of this gloomy ballad is this: good times equals people and togetherness, bad times equals the bad kind of solitude.

Signing off
This feels like a very gloomy poem! I feel very much like the person who wrote this has been let down a lot by the people who were supposed to care about them and that they are facing up to the reality of dying alone. Not that I get that impression from the biographical information I’ve read about the author. If the truth of the poem’s origin is to believed, the sorrow felt in the poem is second-hand or empathy for another rather than feeling maudlin for herself.

However. When you’re feeling down, it can often feel like the whole world is against you, or at least has its back to you so you are suffering on your own. It’s not true. Even if you surround yourself with the shittiest of people doesn’t mean that people don’t care. Perhaps not the ones that you want to care about you, but that’s a lesson in itself. The moment we can let go of the people who don’t care about us as we care about them, I think we truly accept ourselves. It’s a work in progress for us all, and if anything, that proves we’re not alone – we’re all sharing similar experiences even if we don’t meet up and discuss them.


Poetry Foundation


When I read this I think of the song… Because Motown has been on my Spotify a lot recently, how about a spot of Al Green?


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