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Wilcox, Ella Wheeler

Category: Poet

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850 – October 30, 1919) was an American author and poet. Her best-known work was Poems of Passion.

Her most enduring work was "Solitude", first published in the February 25, 1883 issue of The New York Sun.

The inspiration for the poem came as she was travelling to attend the Governor's inaugural ball in Madison, Wisconsin. On her way to the celebration, there was a young woman dressed in black sitting across the aisle from her. The woman was crying. Miss Wheeler sat next to her and sought to comfort her for the rest of the journey. When they arrived, the poet was so sad that she could barely attend the scheduled festivities. As she looked at her own face in the mirror, all she do was recall the sorrowful widow. It was at that moment that she wrote the opening lines of "Solitude":

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone".

Her autobiography, The Worlds and I, was published in 1918, a year before her death.

Life

Ella Wheeler was born in 1850 on a farm in Johnstown, Wisconsin, east of Janesville, the youngest of four children. The family soon moved north of Madison. She started writing poetry at a very early age, and was well known as a poet in her own state by the time she graduated from high school.

Robert

In 1884, she married Robert Wilcox of Meriden, Connecticut, where the couple lived before moving to New York City and then to Granite Bay in the Short Beach section of Branford, Connecticut.

The two homes they built on Long Island Sound, along with several cottages, became known as Bungalow Court, and they would hold gatherings there of literary and artistic friends.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox died of cancer on October 30, 1919 in Short Beach.

Beliefs

Not long after their marriage, Robert and Ella both became interested in theosophy and spiritualism. 

They had one child, a son, who died shortly after birth and this simply furthered their interest in death and what happened after one had died. Early in their married life, Robert and Ella Wheeler Wilcox promised each other that whoever went first through death would return and communicate with the other. Robert Wilcox died in 1916, after over thirty years of marriage. Ella was overcome with grief, which became ever more intense as week after week went without any message from him.

 

In an act of desperation she went to see Max Heindel, seeking help in her sorrow, still unable to understand why she had no word from her Robert. He was less than helpful.  In general the very intense emotion of grief often opens the person to communication, whether it is in the form of an hallucination [with accompanying communication] or some form of ‘inner speech’, a sense of communication.  There are numerous examples in the section on grief of people who have had communication.  Max Heindel gave her completely unhelpful advice:

In talking with Max Heindel … he made very clear to me the effect of intense grief. Mr. Heindel assured me that I would come in touch with the spirit of my husband when I learned to control my sorrow. ....Did you ever stand beside a clear pool of water, asked Mr. Heindel, and see the trees and skies repeated therein? And did you ever cast a stone into that pool and see it clouded and turmoiled, so it gave no reflection? Yet the skies and trees were waiting above to be reflected when the waters grew calm. So God and your husband's spirit wait to show themselves to you when the turbulence of sorrow is quieted.

Rubbish!

Despite all her efforts, it appears Robert never did communicate with her, and I suspect Max Heindel can be partly blamed for this.

Despite her lack of visionary or hallucinatory spiritual experience, Ella attempted to teach occult things.  Her books were popular in the New Thought Movement and by 1915 her booklet, What I Know About New Thought had a distribution of 50,000 copies, according to its publisher, Elizabeth Towne. 

 

A kindly well intentioned and honest lady, she never seemed to realise that it was her poems that would be her lasting gift and her poems that were the spiritual experience she sought.  Her poems were popular, optimistic, compassionate and kind.  It was her poems that expressed the almost mystic like sentiment, when she wrote "Whatever Is—Is Best".  An acceptance of the Great Work and Destiny. There are only two drivers to her life of inspiration - love and grief.  In her book Poems of passion  the inside cover is inscribed by Ella....Love is the center and the circumference, the cause and sum of all things.

Her poems have been included in few academic anthologies of poems.  Sinclair Lewis, for example, stated they had a “lack of literary sophistication”.  I am not sure at what point poetry became a means of being sophisticated, but as far as I am concerned, sophistication is the last think you look for in poetry, it is emotion and honesty that are the signs of the best poetry.  Words that tear your heart strings. 

It is noticeable that a great number of her poems have been included in  Best Loved Poems of the American People, while Martin Gardner selected "The Way Of The World" and "The Winds of Fate" for Best Remembered Poems.  So perhaps the people at large have a better understanding of poetry than academics.

The Jacques Romano story – Dr Berthold Eric Schwartz
Romano was great friends with Ella Wilcox.  He said
“Ella Wheeler Wilcox believed in reincarnation and spiritualism. She felt that she and her husband would work for humanity in the hereafter. Ella was good-hearted and hoped that her writing would enable people to better understand themselves and each other. She used to call me an 'old soul.' Because I did not disagree with her, she was fond of me. She was a frail little woman with many wrinkles on her face. Once, when I saw her sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Astor, I tiptoed up to her and kissed her on the forehead. I said, 'Ella, when I look at your face I'm inspired. Many people try to get rid of their wrinkles, but the lines carved on your face represent the wisdom and beauty of thousands of years.'"

 

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