"The Obligation to be Happy"

Linda Pastan

About the Author

Linda Pastan was born in 1932 in New York City. As a college senior, won the Madmoiselle poetry prize. However, she gave up poetry to start a family. After ten years at home, her husband urged her to return to poetry. Since the 1970s, Pastan has been writing poetry, most commonly about love, grief and the anxieties that exist under the surface of every day life.
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"The Obligation to be Happy"

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.

What the poem means to me

My take on the poem is a semi-abusive relationship, where the author feels as though they cannot express all of their emotions. The author expresses that they feel the need to hide their sadness, which weighs down on their shoulders and causes them to be even more sad. It's a vicious cycle that the author does not know how to deal with, and they think that no one else can ever understand.
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