Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 – 1919) was an American author and poet whose works include the lines "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone." Her poem The Year was published in 1910.
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.
The poem begins with the speaker asking if there is anything in the world that can be new. Even though it is a new year, that does not mean anything has changed. In fact, the speaker makes the case over the next five couplets that nothing changes at all. First, she speaks on the presence of dreams and the way they lead one through life, ideally, to eventual knowledge. She also presents laughter and weeping as opposite, but equally present parts of life. She goes on in the second half of the poem to list out additional parts of life in order to show their connection and simultaneous presence. The poem concludes with Wilcox’s speaker stating that everything she mentioned is a part of the “burden of life.” It exists in every year, throughout time.
In this age of COVID, US social upheaval with international implications and an unknown future, the above put me in mind of another famous comment on uncertain times . . .
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, opening paragraph