Risus Dei

Methinks in Him there dwells alway
  A 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 bay
  The strong man drives the wedge
  Of 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 nook
  Or shade a fair child's laugh
  Is heard,
  Is not God half?
  And if a strong man gird
  His loins for laughter, stirred
  By 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 mill
  Of languaged logic; thought
  Hath not its source so high;
  The will
  Must 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 tools
  Of laughter He hath given them, and some toys
  Of sense, as 'twere a small retort
  Wherein they may collect the joys
  Of natural giggling, as becomes their state:
  The fool is not inhuman, making sport
  For such as would not gladly be without
  That 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 shell
  From which a laugh has flown,
  A mask, a well
  That hath no water of its own,
  Part echo of a groan,
  Which, if it hide a cheat,
  Is a base counterfeit;
  But if one borrow
  A cloak to wrap a sorrow
  That it may pass unknown,
  Then can it not be empty. God doth dwell
  Behind the feigned gladness,
  Inhabiting a sacred core of sadness.

  'Yet is there not an evil laugh?' Content--
  What follows?
  When Satan fills the hollows
  Of his bolt-riven heart
  With spasms of unrest,
  And calls it laughter; if it give relief
  To his great grief,
  Grudge not the dreadful jest.
  But if the laugh be aimed
  At 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 force
  Of simple health and vigour seek a course
  Extravagant, as when a wave runs high,
  And tips with crest of foam the incontinent curve,
  Or if it be reserve
  Of 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 source
  Of a great river, on the topmost stie
  Of cliff, then have you bad
  All heaven to laugh with you; yet somewhere nigh
  A shepherd lad
  Has wondering looked, and deemed that you were mad.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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"Risus Dei" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 7 Jul 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/36271/risus-dei>.

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