Risus Dei

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Methinks in Him there dwells alwayA sea of laughter very deep,Where the leviathans leap,And little children play,Their white feet twinkling on its crisped edge;But in the outer bayThe strong man drives the wedgeOf polished limbs,And swims.Yet there is one will say:--"It is but shallow, neither is it broad"--And so he frowns; but is he nearer God?

One saith that God is in the note of bird,And piping wind, and brook,And all the joyful things that speak no word:Then if from sunny nookOr shade a fair child's laughIs heard,Is not God half?And if a strong man girdHis loins for laughter, stirredBy trick of ape or calf--Is he no better than a cawing rook?

Nay 'tis a Godlike function; laugh thy fill!Mirth comes to thee unsought;Mirth sweeps before it like a flood the millOf languaged logic; thoughtHath not its source so high;The willMust let it by:For though the heavens are still,God sits upon His hill,And sees the shadows fly;And if He laughs at fools, why should He not?

"Yet hath a fool a laugh"--Yea, of a sort;God careth for the fools;The chemic toolsOf laughter He hath given them, and some toysOf sense, as 'twere a small retortWherein they may collect the joysOf natural giggling, as becomes their state:The fool is not inhuman, making sportFor such as would not gladly be withoutThat old familiar noise:Since, though he laugh not, he can cachinnate--This also is of God, we may not doubt.

"Is there an empty laugh?" Best called a shellFrom which a laugh has flown,A mask, a wellThat hath no water of its own,Part echo of a groan,Which, if it hide a cheat,Is a base counterfeit;But if one borrowA cloak to wrap a sorrowThat it may pass unknown,Then can it not be empty. God doth dwellBehind the feigned gladness,Inhabiting a sacred core of sadness.

"Yet is there not an evil laugh?" Content--What follows?When Satan fills the hollowsOf his bolt-riven heartWith spasms of unrest,And calls it laughter; if it give reliefTo his great grief,Grudge not the dreadful jest.But if the laugh be aimedAt any good thing that it be ashamed,And blush thereafter,Then it is evil, and it is not laughter.

There are who laugh, but know not why:Whether the forceOf simple health and vigour seek a courseExtravagant, as when a wave runs high,And tips with crest of foam the incontinent curve,Or if it be reserveOf power collected for a goal, which had,Behold! the man is fresh. So when strung nerve,Stout heart, pent breath, have brought you to the sourceOf a great river, on the topmost stieOf cliff, then have you badAll heaven to laugh with you; yet somewhere nighA shepherd ladHas wondering looked, and deemed that you were mad.

© Brown Thomas Edward