Themes in Solitude

Themes Examples in Solitude:

Solitude 8

"But one by one we must all file on..."   (Solitude)

Wilcox’s control of sound in this line serves to effectively convey its meaning. On three of the four beats of the line, we hear the word “one,” or the similar sounding “on.” The march of ones imitates the marching file of solitary humans. This march evokes the poem’s title and central theme of solitude.

"But no man can help you die...."   (Solitude)

This line serves as a key to understanding the poem’s theme. The “but” at the beginning of the line serves to counter or even negate the sentiment of the prior line. There is thus a sense of futility to the litany of positive outward expressions. After all, death waits for everyone and we will all meet it alone. This existential solitude is the poem’s central theme. Our solitary condition is not a reason to ignore the poem’s invitations to “laugh,” “sing,” and “rejoice.” It is simply the backdrop to all of our decisions.

"you..."   (Solitude)

Wilcox constructs much of this poem with imperative statements—such as “laugh,” “weep,” “sing”—and addresses the audience as an ambiguous “you.” Imperatives are commands, which could mean that Wilcox’s speaker is stating what “you” should do and then following these commands with the consequences of fulfilling or denying them. However, since imperatives are commands, they do not allow for deviations or nuanced actions. So, this presents the speaker’s claims as broad platitudes.

"trouble enough..."   (Solitude)

Wilcox’s speaker claims that the earth not only must borrow happiness from others, but that it is plagued with its own troubles. Such a presentation of the world suggests that the speaker views it as a place where happiness is rare and suffering is common. While we shortly learn more about the speaker’s views, so far we could interpret the speaker’s claims as a call for “you” to bring laughter and mirth to the earth to help mitigate its myriad troubles.

"sad old earth..."   (Solitude)

This is an example of personification, or attributing human qualities to nonhuman things. Personification serves to make things, like the earth, more sympathetic to humans, which can make it easier to form comparisons to seek understanding of the human condition. Here, the speaker attributes the earth with “sad” and “old” qualities and an ability to act with agency. (It “must borrow its mirth.”) By doing this, the speaker draws the earth into the human realm, portraying it as a melancholic entity that needs to draw on the happiness of others. This appears to add weight to the positive assertions that the speaker makes, emphasizing the ability of one’s actions to positively affect others.

"alone..."   (Solitude)

The appearance of the word “alone” at the beginning of a poem titled “Solitude” should give readers pause. Titles often provide important context for overall themes in poems. Since “solitude” means the state of living or being alone, then we should look at how the speaker talks about this condition. In this line, weeping is depicted as a personal action, which suggests that something like grief, which can cause one to weep, is something that is felt on a personal level independent of others.

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you..."   (Solitude)

Wilcox’s “Solitude” is one of her better known works largely in part due to this often-quoted first line. On the surface level, this statement appears to suggest that if you are happy, then the world will be happy with you. However, the title of the work is “Solitude” which suggests that inclusion, such as others sharing happiness with you, is not going to be the primary focus; in fact, “solitude” conveys a tone of melancholy, not happiness. Keep this discrepancy in mind as Wilcox advances her claims about solitude and the human condition.

"alone..."   (Solitude)

The progression of platitudes in this poem can also be read as a description of the world as it is. Since the poem is titled “Solitude” and these platitudes describe interactions between people, the careful reader will notice that these platitudes are not the focus of the poem. Even though they dominate the majority of the lines, these descriptions of social interaction are mere distraction from the overall theme Wilcox portrays: everyone lives and dies alone.