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National Poetry Month, 2014 Ella Wheeler Wilcox, poet and author

Big Sur Coastline
Big Sur Coastline
Catherine Al-Meten

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, an American poet and author, is remembered for her collection of poetry, Poems of Passion.

Born in 1850 on a farm in Johnstown, Wisconsin, she was the youngest of four children. Later the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. You may recognize famous lines from one of her poems even if you haven’t heard of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. As a young woman while traveling to attend the Governor’s inaugural ball, Ella noticed a young woman dressed all in black sitting alone on the train crying. Ella sought to comfort the young woman, sitting with her to the end of the journey. By the time Ella Wheeler Wilcox arrived for the ball, she was so depressed, she didn’t know how she was going to make it through the events. It is said she looked at her own radiant image in a mirror and was inspired to write the poem, Solitude, the opening lines being: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. Her poem Solitude was published in the Sun, and she was paid $5.00 for her poem. That poem would be part of the collection, Poems of Passion, published in May, 1883.

Ella Wheeler married Robert Wilcox of Connecticut in 1884. They lived in New York City, and built two homes on Long Island Sound where they entertained artist and literary friends. The couple were interested in theosophy, new thought, and spiritualism. After her beloved husband died in 1916 after over 30 years of marriage, Ella became grief-stricken, and suffered over the fact that she could not make contact with him after death. They had vowed to one another that whichever one died first would give the other a sign. In her grief she sought counsel from Max Heindel, the head of the Rosicrucian Philosophy. He told Ella that her sorrow was clouding her ability to connect with her husband, and that when she controlled her grief, “So God and your husband's spirit wait to show themselves to you when the turbulence of sorrow is quieted. “

Ella Wheeler Wilcox composed a prayer which she used to help still her grief, and used her writing to express her ideas about new thought and theosophy. She said of her beliefs, "As we think, act, and live here today, we build the structures of our homes in spirit realms after we leave earth, and we build karma for future lives, thousands of years to come, on this earth or other planets. Life will assume new dignity, and labor new interest for us, when we come to the knowledge that death is but a continuation of life and labor, in higher planes".
Ella Wheeler Wilcox died on October 30, 1919.

Here are several poems written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

"It Might Have Been"
We will be what we could be.

Do not say, 

"It might have been, had not this, or that, or this."

No fate can keep us from the chosen way; 

He only might who is. 

We will do what we could do.

Do not dream 

Chance leaves a hero, all uncrowned to grieve.

I hold, all men are greatly what they seem;

He does, who could achieve. 

We will climb where we could climb.

Tell me not

Of adverse storms that kept thee from the height.

What eagle ever missed the peak he sought?

He always climbs who might.

I do not like the phrase "It might have been!"

It lacks force, and life's best truths perverts:

For I believe we have, and reach, and win,

Whatever our deserts.

A Glass Of Wine
'What's in a glass of wine?'

There, set the glass where I can look within.

Now listen to me, friend, while I begin

And tell you what I see-

What I behold with my far-reaching eyes,

And what I know to be

Below the laughing bubbles that arise

Within this glass of wine.

There is a little spirit, night and day,

That cries one word, for ever and alway:

That single word is 'More!'

And whoso drinks a glass of wine, drinks him:

You fill the goblet full unto the brim,

And strive to silence him.

Glass after glass you drain to quench his thirst,

Each glass contains a spirit like the first;

And all their voices cry

Until they shriek and clamor, howl and rave,

And shout 'More!' noisily,

Till welcome death prepares the drunkard's grave,

And stills the imps that rave.

That see I in the wine:

And tears so many that I cannot guess;

And all these drops are labelled with 'Distress.'

I know you cannot see.

And at the bottom are the dregs of shame:

Oh! it is plain to me.

And there are woes too terrible to name:

Now drink your glass of wine.

Begin The Day

Begin each morning with a talk to God, 

And ask for your divine inheritance

Of usefulness, contentment, and success.

Resign all fear, all doubt, and all despair.

The stars doubt not, and they are undismayed, 

Though whirled through space for countless centuries, 

And told not why or wherefore: and the sea

With everlasting ebb and flow obeys, 

And leaves the purpose with the unseen Cause.

The star sheds its radiance on a million worlds, 

The sea is prodigal with waves, and yet

No lustre from the star is lost, and no

One drop missing from the ocean tides

Oh! brother to the star and sea, know all

God’s opulence is held in trust for those

Who wait serenely and who work in faith.


Dear friend, I pray thee, if thou wouldst be proving

Thy strong regard for me,

Make me no vows.

Lip-service is not loving;

Let thy faith speak for thee.

Swear not to me that nothing can divide u

So little such oaths mean.

But when distrust and envy creep beside us

Let them not come between.

Say not to me the depths of thy devotion

Are deeper than the sea;

But watch, lest doubt or some unkind emotion

Embitter them for me.

Vow not to love me ever and for ever,

Words are such idle things;

But when we differ in opinions, never

Hurt me by little stings.

I'm sick of words: they are so lightly spoken,

And spoken, are but air.

I'd rather feel thy trust in me unbroken

Than list thy words so fair.

If all the little proofs of trust are heeded,

It thou are always kind,

No sacrifice, no promise will be needed

To satisfy my mind.


Whoever you are as you read this,

Whatever your trouble or grief, 

I want you to know and to heed this: 

The day draweth near with relief.

No sorrow, no woe is unending, 

Though heaven seems voiceless and dumb;

So sure as your cry is ascending,

So surely an answer will come.

Whatever temptation is near you, 

Whose eyes on this simple verse fall;

Remember good angels will hear you

And help you to stand, if you call.

Though stunned with despair I beseech you, 

Whatever your losses, your need, 

Believe, when these printed words reach you,

Believe you were born to succeed.

You are stronger, I tell you, this minute, 
Than any unfortunate fate!

And the coveted prize - you can win it; 

While life lasts 'tis never too late!

Love Much
Love much.

Earth has enough of bitter in it.

Cast sweets into its cup whene’er you can.

heart so hard, but love at last may win it

Love is the great primæval cause of man.

All hate is foreign to the first great plan.

Love much.

Your heart will be led out to slaughter, 

On altars built of envy and deciet.

Love on, love on! ‘tis bread upon the water;

It shall be cast in loaves yet at your feet, 

Unleavened manna, most divinely sweet.

Love much.

Your faith will be dethroned and shaken, 

Your trust betrayed by many a fair, false lure.

Remount your faith, and let new trusts awaken.

Though clouds obscure them, yet the stars are pure; 

Love is a vital force and must endure.

Love much.

Men’s souls contract with cold suspicion; 

Shine on them with warm love, and they expand.

‘Tis love, not creeds, that from a low condition

Leads mankind up to heights supreme and grand.

Oh that the world could see and understand!

Love much.

There is no waste in freely giving;

More blessed is it, even, than to receive.

He who loves much alone finds life worth living:

Love on, through doubt and darkness; and believe

There is no thing which Love may not achieve.

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.

here 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.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote over 500 poems, and when I heard my friend reciting one, the timbre and tone of the poem sounded so familiar. As I sifted through many of Ella Wheeler Wilcox poems, I came upon the following poem, and remember my Mother reciting this poem to me:

Worth While

It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is the one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
For the test of the heart is trouble,
And it always comes with the years,
And the smile that is worth the praises of earth
Is the smile that shines through tears.

It is easy enough to be prudent
When nothing tempts you to stray,
When without or within no voice of sin
Is luring your soul away;
But it’s only a negative virtue
Until it is tried by fire,
And the life that is worth the honour on earth
Is the one that resists desire.

By the cynic, the sad, the fallen,
Who had no strength for the strife,
The world’s highway is cumbered to-day—
They make up the sum of life;
But the virtue that conquers passion,
And the sorrow that hides in a smile—
It is these that are worth the homage on earth,
For we find them but once in a while.

During National Poetry Month, spend at least a little time each day reading and listening to poetry. Some time during the month, gather a few friends and family members around, and ask that they bring their favorite poems to share. Plan a poetry party or host a poetry reading in your business or organization. Invite local poets to read their poetry, and share some of your favorite poems with others. Try your hand at writing a poem or two, and discover the beauty of finding expression in poetry.

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