The opening lines of this poem leap off the page with their familiarity.

Is the initial observation, and the succeeding ones, cynical or merely sad acknowledgment of the limitations of human sympathy? Whatever the verdict, this is the best known work by the American populist poet and visionary Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919).


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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 you 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.