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By 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: Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1998)

  • Living
  • Relationships

Poet Bio

Linda Pastan put her promising literary career on hold when she got married, and focused instead on raising a family. Unsettled by her unfulfilled talent, Pastan returned to writing and published her first book, A Perfect Circle of Sun at age 39. Her themes, not surprisingly, often address domestic life, but she is also influenced by her childhood and growing up in a Jewish family living in the Bronx.

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