“Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone….”
The poem “Solitude” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (below in its entirety) is a powerful exploration of an undeniable reality of human nature. There is a natural desire to seek out that which exudes happiness and cheer and to avoid pain and darkness. It extends to our tendency to gravitate toward other people who are joyful and happy and full of positive energy. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it is healthy to surround ourselves with people who are positive and encouraging and exhibit love, joy and peace. No one wants to be around those who are constantly negative, cynical, sarcastic and depressing. So in one sense, this poem is a clue to the reality that others are attracted to us if we endeavor to be cheerful and positive rather than negative and gloomy.
But understanding this truth of human nature also informs us we should not ignore those around us who are hurting. Even though our natural tendency is to seek out joy and happiness and people who exude those things, the reality is we should cultivate within ourselves a desire to help others in their time of need. We all go through difficult times and need help from others who are in a stronger place in their lives – people who can reach out to us and draw us out of depression, grief or other pains.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox emphasizes the uncaring world by exploring not only how we humans often flee from those in pain, but how the earth itself is indifferent to human suffering:
“Sing and the hills will answer; Sigh, it is lost on the air”
Eventually, as the last lines explain, we will all travel down “the narrow aisles of pain”. And in some sense we have to be realistic that there are times when no one but God can ultimately save us and help us in our deepest and darkest hours. And while this poem is primarily a warning about our own destiny, it can serve as an exhortation to look around us to find others who need our help and support.
“Succeed and give, and it helps you live,”
Curb that tendency to gravitate toward only those in a happy and carefree time in their lives and have a seat next to someone suffering there alone staring out at an uncaring world. When we are physically, emotionally and spiritually strong we are well-equipped to reach out a hand to draw someone out of their darkness. Rise above that natural urge and become the one who can make a difference in someone else’s life. Someday you too will be the one sitting alone on that bench waiting for someone to come to your side.
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 long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
Thanks for stopping by.
What do you think? Have you had a time in your life when someone went out of their way to draw you out of a dark place?
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Lea, this is SO beautiful! Not just the poem, but your own words as well. When I was a teenager, I had some dark times that my family helped me through. I did lose my best friend over these struggles and it made my pain much worse. As a believer in Christ and His promises, I am generally a positive person. Right now I am struggling with a friend that is constantly down. She is very unpleasant to be around and refuses to look to His truths for solutions (she is a believer). Again, I believe He has used you to speak to me about what I need to do in this situation. I just need to sit with her, quietly, and let her know I will always be there for her, whether she is joyful or not. Thank you!
Thank you Kiki. I am glad my words were meaningful to you. Sometimes we want the people in our lives who might be hurting to hurry up and “get over it”. It’s natural to look at it that way in a sense because we like to think our love and support will help them to heal. But I know from experience that healing takes time. And the most patient and loving friends are often the ones who make a real difference. I hope you will keep supporting your friend and helping her to take joy in life again. Some people can become chronically negative and bring others down with them. That’s the tricky part – walking that fine line of being helpful and supportive but not letting someone who might be chronically negative affect your own ability to be joyful. Best wishes to you! You sound like a great friend.
This was such a blessing to read! thank u!
You’re welcome, Anitra. Thanks for reading and commenting.
This is exactly what I needed to hear (read). I am struggling with both sides of the issue. I have been feeling beaten down and unsettled lately (Satan no doubt trying to draw me away from the One who saved me), but I have a great Christian husband and good friends who are not “uncomfortable ” and help pull me out. One the other side, I am dealing with some other people in my life who are constantly negative and complain about everything. Since this has been happening , sometimes it takes all my willpower not to tell them to grow up and stop whining lol. I believe God has put me in their midst and I am not sure exactly what to do so I am just trying to be a positive in their world of negative. Seems like they are noticing. When one of them was leaving for another job she said my positive attitude is contagious. I hope so. I just keep praying for God to use me in their lives and for me to have the courage to do what He leads me to do. Thanks for your blog..keep up the great work.
Hi Debbie. From my experience it is healthier to shield yourself from others who bring you down if you are already feeling beaten down yourself. We women (especially) tend to think we need to be available to everyone and sometimes we do ourselves damage by trying to be everything to everybody. That doesn’t mean that you don’t reach out to others if they need your help. And you can always serve as an example of positive. But there are times when we are strong and can deal with the tough things (and tough people) and there are times when we have to look out for our own well-being. The fact that you pray about it all tells me you have your priorities exactly right. And I REALLY appreciate the encouragement about the blog. (I have my down days too and nice comments are wonderful to hear.) Best to you!
Always loved this poem. It’s both beautiful and sad.
Completely agree. I find poems like this mean so much more the older I get and the more life experiences I have.
Hi, Lea! I just wanted to tell you what a joy it was to find your site! I’m relatively new to Paleo (on the last week of my “Whole 30!”) and was looking up a recipe when I found your blog.
I’m certain I found it particularly now, as it was something I needed to “hear,” too. I believe in Our Heavenly Father, too, and am generally a pretty positive person (have been called “Pollyana” by people who thought I’d take it as an insult, but quite the opposite!) but find it trying to be joyful and encouraging sometimes when others misinterpret my joy and discount my struggles…as we all have them. I realize this is “prideful,” but this fault adversely affects my ability to love and encourage as we are called to do, y’know?
While I know in my heart and mind that we’re all called to help one another, I sometimes get discouraged–and your posts were just what I needed! ..So I wanted to be sure and TELL you that; COMPLIMENT you; and hopefully UPLIFT & ENCOURAGE SWEET YOU!! May God BLESS YOU for all the effort, time, and energy it takes to minister to all of US along with your family & friends! For that’s what you’re doing. Truly.
You are a sweet, loving Spirit, and I’m blessed to have “met” you–if only “virtually,” as yet! <3
MANY thanks, again–for your blog, recipes, insights–ENCOURAGEMENT. You're DEFINITELY making a difference in Our World, and in MANY lives!! May you be blessed "100-fold" for it, Dear One! ; )
I'm rootin' for ya & will be praying for you, too. <3
My goodness, Kathy, thank you so much! Your encouragement is much appreciated. It is really wonderful to find like-minded people.
My husband and I were discussing your comment and he agreed that the term Pollyana has come to be – at least to some people – a pejorative term. But I like your attitude of turning it around and making it something positive. One of the things I have learned is there are plenty of people, even people who are otherwise decent folks, who can find some pleasure in tearing others down. And often they do it to people who have something they wish they had. In your case, it sounds like a lot of other people who wish they had your joy are finding a way to bring you down a little so they can feel better about their lives. And it is true people tend to assume if you have joy that you must not have any struggles – which is often a completely wrong assumption. It doesn’t sound to me like you are being prideful. But, as I mentioned to a couple of other people, you have to protect yourself from others who choose to do things to bring you down. When we are strong we can usually endure those situations. But there are times when we need to focus on keeping our own positive outlook and associate with the ones who build us up. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help others in times of need. We should!
I hope that makes sense. 🙂
Thanks again, for your comment.