I found this little gem, Happy Thought by Robert Louis Stevenson, in my daughter’s book of poems. It is all of two lines, written in loose iambic pentameter. But what an astounding bit of verse it is!
The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
At first look, it sounds like a really happy thought, like the poet was having an especially happy day and *had* to condense all his joy into that perfect couplet for many others to enjoy.
Then you realize you could read the couplet a number of ways and get a very different mood out of it each time.
You could read it with smiling optimism, as you would any “happy thought“. You could also read it with breathless enthusiasm, all atwitter with wonder and excitement. Or with just a touch of whimsy. You could perhaps read it with righteous indignation (I mean, the world is so amazing. Why on earth aren’t we being happy about it?!). You could even read it with bone-dry sarcasm (Right! The world is so amazing, we should be so “happy” – air quotes included – to be in it).
See, what I mean? Just from the tone of the reading, the mood of the couplet can go from quietly blissful to downright cynical! Doesn’t it feel like a mirror to the mind and personality of the reader? Or perhaps, just his or her mood that day.
What way did *you* read it?