Sunday, April 23, 2023

Poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) was an American author and poet. Her best-known work was Poems of Passion (1883), and her autobiography, "The Worlds and I," which was published in 1918 shortly before her death. She started writing poetry at a very early age, and was well known as a poet in her own state of Wisconsin by the time she graduated from high school. Her works, filled with positivism, became very popular. By 1915 her booklet, "What I Know About New Thought," had a distribution of 50,000 copies.

In "The Man Worth While" she wrote:

"It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows by like a song
But the man worth while is one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong"

Her poem "Solitude" has her most famous line, one you are probably familiar with...

"Laugh and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone"

In "The Winds of Fate" she wrote...

"One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow
'Tis the set of the sails And Not the gales
That tells us the way to go
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life
'Tis the set of a soul That decides its goal"
And not the calm or the strife"

Her 1917 poem, "Optimism" is among my favorites:

"I'm no reformer; for I see more light
Than darkness in the world
Mine eyes are quick to catch
The first dim radiance of the dawn
And slow to note the cloud that threatens storm
The fragrance and the beauty of the rose
Delight me so; slight thought I give its thorn
And the sweet music of the lark's clear song
Stays longer with me than the night hawk's cry
And e'en in this great throe of pain called Life
I find a rapture linked with each despair
Well worth the price of Anguish
I detect more good than evil in humanity
Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes
And men grow better as the world grows old"

She once made an appearance during WWI in France, reciting her poem, "The Stevedores" ,while visiting a camp of 9,000 US Army stevedores, (men who provided movement of supplies through ports in support of the American Expeditionary Forces).

"We are the army stevedores
Lusty and virile and strong
We are given the hardest work of the war
And the hours are long
We handle the heavy boxes
And shovel the dirty coal
While soldiers and sailors work in the light
We burrow below like a mole
But somebody has to do this work
Or the soldiers could not fight
And whatever work is given a man
Is good if he does it right"

About the photo: Ella Wheeler Wilcox's poem plaque near the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco Chinatown's Jack Kerouac Alley.

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