Tuesday 5 November 2013

Cigars beneath the stars...

'I LIKE cigars
Beneath the stars,
Upon the waters blue.
To laugh and float
While rocks the boat
Upon the waves,--Don't you?
To rest the oar
And float to shore,--
While soft the moonbeams shine,--
To laugh and joke,
And idly smoke,
I think is quite divine.'

Who wrote those lines? Some pleasure-loving chap, no doubt - though 'quite divine' strikes a less than manly note... In fact, this celebration of the pleasures of a lazy smoke was written by the once hugely popular poet of moral uplift, good cheer and positive thinking, Ella Wheeler Wilcox (born on this day in 1850).
  If Wilcox is remembered at all, it is for the much more characteristic lines (from Solitude)

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.

In her lifetime the popularity of her verse was immense, but the death of her baby son and her husband led Wilcox to take an increasing interest in the occult, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, spiritualism and the fashionable New Thought Movement. Her (prose) writings in this field proved almost as popular as her verse. Wilcox was very much a woman of her time - hence her enormous popularity then, hence her obscurity now. However, she is memorialised  in (of all places) Jack Kerouac Alley in San Francisco, by the City Lights bookstore, where a paving slab is inscribed with her words 'Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.'

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