Throughout the history of poetry writing, it is fair to say, there have been so many poets who were genuinely unpleasant people. Perhaps being a famous, even revered, writer can lead someone into self-centredness at best. At worst they become so obsessed with getting it right, with producing the next “great work”, that they can easily forget that they are a human being first, and a writer somewhere down the list of things to be.
But here we have someone quite different. Ella Wheeler Wilcox was never described as one of the great poets in America but she was popular and read by millions. She did, in fact, write for magazines and other periodicals in between publishing a good number of books of her poems and prose. All the time she was doing this she was a genuinely nice person and wrote poetry because it pleased her to do so, and of course it pleased her that others found her work agreeable.
There was something of the mystic about her as well. She published a book called Poems of Power which was judged to contain some works with New Thought qualities and clearly outlined her leanings towards Spiritualism. Oriental, particularly Indian, influences can be seen in her work and this attitude to life inspired her to write. Where she got these influences from is hard to establish, having been born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin in 1850. She moved to Connecticut in 1884 as a married woman and already she had become a very popular poet.
As a syndicated writer for the Hearst group of newspapers her prose on New Thought lines reached wide audiences and was well received. Having come from a family who were all interested in the composition of verse Ella had led a very simple, uncomplicated life were the most important things in her life were visiting her girlfriends and riding horses. She dreamed her dreams, like most young women, but it seemed her overriding ambition was to just be kind and be well thought of.
Strangely enough, for a young woman of only 23, she wrote eminently and at great length in support of total abstinence from alcohol. These were the prohibition years between 1865 and 1875 and she published two volumes – Shells and Drops of Water – which contained more than 175 poems opposing alcoholic drinks, the makers of those drinks and the vendors. As the years went by her output was considerable and her legions of admirers grew all the time. It was said at the time that she wrote for the same reason that a bird sings. It came absolutely naturally to her.
The death of her husband in 1884 was a terrible blow but she felt happier when she received messages from him via the spiritual world that she so believed in. She did war work in France right up to Armistice Day. Some would think of her as a religious woman but she described her faith as “the art of being kind”, and she practiced it every day right up to her death on October 30, 1919, at her home in Short Beach, Connecticut.
If one were to choose a piece of work that Ella Wheeler Wilcox produced that encapsulates her philosophy on life then Attainment probably just about fits the bill. It is one of her shorter poems, and is reproduced below:
It has been said that the world was a good place with Ella Wheeler Wilcox a part of it and, reading those words, it is hard to disagree.