I was drawn to this poem because of two passing comments made in books I read this month. In Anne's House of Dreams, at one point Anne says to her friend something to the effect of, "you will have all the joys and sorrows a mother can expect." In Wendall Barry's A Place On Earth several of the characters experience great sorrow, but continue to go about their business, integrating the sorrow into their lives for the time being.
This was interesting to me because I feel as though today we do not accept sorrow as a normal part of life, but rather a misfortune which just happens to find us on occasion. This poem, especially the last lines, seem to refute this notion, saying instead that we all need to pass through sorrows to get to the "halls of pleasure."
I also spent the entire month debating the tone of this poem. Is it one of those nineteenth century instructional poem, basically saying, "unfortunate things happen, but you are better off looking on the bright side?" Or, instead, is it tinged with a bit of bitterness, with the ultimate meaning being, "people will be your friends when you are happy, but once you experience sadness, you are on your own." After a month of reciting, I'm inclined to the latter opinion and I think that the second conclusion is the correct one, and I offer the last six lines as proof:
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 large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
The bit of reading I did about the poem (okay, I just read one Wikipedia entry, it's not like they pay me for this gig) said that Wheeler Wilcox encountered a woman dressed in black crying by herself on a train. She spent the ride comforting her and the poem sprang from that experience.
I take comfort in this poem. It says my sorrows are okay.
As for memorization, it went in pretty easily, but I think it will be hard to retain, simply because the order of the things are easily jumbled. Sometimes when I'm reciting, my mind wanders and I discover I have skipped entirely one pair, usually feast/fast, but sometimes glad/sad. For this reason I will put it on daily rotation for December and January, just to solidify it.