Don’t Expect Applause by Ellen Bass

And yet, wouldn’t it be welcome
at the end of each ordinary day?
The audience could be small,
the theater modest. Folding chairs
in a church basement would do.
…Just a short earnest burst of applause
that you got up that morning
and, one way or the other,
made it through the day.

You soaped up in the steaming
shower, drank your Starbucks
in the car, and let the guy with the
Windex wipe your windshield
during the long red light at Broad Street.
Or maybe you were that guy,
not daring to light up
while you stood there because
everyone’s so down on smoke these days.

Or you kissed your wife
as she hurried out the door, even though
you were pretty sure she was
meeting her lover at the Flamingo Motel,
even though you wanted to grab her
by a hank of her sleek hair.

Maybe your son’s in jail.
Your daughter’s stopped eating.
And your husband’s still dead
this morning, just like he was
yesterday and the day before that.
And yet you put on your shoes
and take a walk, and when a neighbor
says Good morning, you say
Good morning back.

Would a round of applause be amiss?
Even if you weren’t good.
If you yelled at your kid,
poisoned the ants, drank too much
and said that really stupid thing
you promised yourself you wouldn’t say.
Even if you don’t deserve it.

Don’t Expect Applause

Ellen Bass has a knack for translating those random thoughts that pass through our mind from time to time, and putting words to them in such a way as to help it all make some sense, as well as with gentle humor. I must say there are days when any sign of appreciation for the endless rounds of thankless tasks would be a happy surprise. And the idea of hands clapping, especially at the end of an ordinary day, would be welcome.

From that first act of the morning, whether it be simply standing up and moving slowly, or, leaping into race day mode, each one is noteworthy, though it may not earn you applause. All the possibilities of a day, from the dramatic to the mundane, are made for appreciation though you may not receive it. Which leads me to wonder if perhaps the applause needs to come from ourselves.

Even if you weren’t good, because who gets through the day without some small thing to regret, something to apologize for saying or doing. Even if you don’t deserve it, because maybe, being human, you really do deserve it. A round of applause for yourself then would not be amiss, would you agree?

14 thoughts on “Don’t Expect Applause by Ellen Bass

  1. Thank you Jan for helping me to think about this poem I’ve loved in a new way, and bringing it to my attention again. I’ve always considered it a wise and compassionate poem; today I see its poignancy also. Ellen ( our first Poet Laureate here in Santa Cruz) has such a gift for seeing the precious, the perfect, the holy in the seemingly mundane, doesn’t she?


  2. What a great way to look at the ordinary in our days. Everyone would like credit for something, even soaping up in the shower. Thank you for this poem. I love Ellen Bass’s work, but did not know this poem. With appreciation and applause for your contribution to my day!


  3. Hi Jan,

    Another wonderful poem. Made me smile, tear up a bit and then smile again.

    This poem speaks to so many levels of the important mundane of our lives.

    Thank you,



  4. Dear Jan – another treasure – a new one for me. I love your insight about the applause coming from ourselves. And although Ellen doesn’t say so, maybe we can pay forward that applause to those around us and beyond. Thank you! Love, Mary Lou


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