The Obligation to Be Happy

By Linda Pastan b. 1932 Linda Pastan
It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,   
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.

Linda Pastan, "The Obligation to be Happy" from Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998, published by  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.  Copyright © 1998 by Linda Pastan. Reprinted with the permission of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.

Source: Poetry (December 1996).

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This poem originally appeared in the December 1996 issue of Poetry magazine

December 1996
 Linda  Pastan

Biography

Poet Linda Pastan was raised in New York City but has lived for most of her life in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. In her senior year at Radcliffe College, Pastan won the Mademoiselle poetry prize (Sylvia Plath was the runner-up). Immediately following graduation, however, she decided to give up writing poetry in order to concentrate on raising her family. After ten years at home, her husband urged her to return . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Home Life, Marriage & Companionship

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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