The Obligation to Be Happy

Sometimes we carry the emotional expectations of others without even realizing it. Sometimes we think a certain behavior is expected and so we try to fulfill a norm that may not truly exist. From the point of view of the narrator of this poem, there is nothing unconscious or unspoken in the expectation put upon them. The point of view is strongly stated and vividly searing.

The Obligation to Be Happy                                                            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.

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