Risus Dei

Original Text: 
Thomas Edward Brown, Old John, and other poems (London: Macmillan, 1893). PR 4175 B5 O4 Robarts Library
2A sea of laughter very deep,
3Where the leviathans leap,
4And little children play,
5Their white feet twinkling on its crisped edge;
6But in the outer bay
7The strong man drives the wedge
8Of polished limbs,
9And swims.
10Yet there is one will say:--
11"It is but shallow, neither is it broad"--
12And so he frowns; but is he nearer God?
13  One saith that God is in the note of bird,
14And piping wind, and brook,
15And all the joyful things that speak no word:
16Then if from sunny nook
17Or shade a fair child's laugh
18Is heard,
19Is not God half?
20And if a strong man gird
21His loins for laughter, stirred
22By trick of ape or calf--
23Is he no better than a cawing rook?
24  Nay 'tis a Godlike function; laugh thy fill!
25Mirth comes to thee unsought;
26Mirth sweeps before it like a flood the mill
27Of languaged logic; thought
28Hath not its source so high;
29The will
30Must let it by:
31For though the heavens are still,
32God sits upon His hill,
33And sees the shadows fly;
34And if He laughs at fools, why should He not?
35  "Yet hath a fool a laugh"--Yea, of a sort;
36God careth for the fools;
37The chemic tools
38Of laughter He hath given them, and some toys
39Of sense, as 'twere a small retort
40Wherein they may collect the joys
41Of natural giggling, as becomes their state:
42The fool is not inhuman, making sport
43For such as would not gladly be without
44That old familiar noise:
45Since, though he laugh not, he can cachinnate--
46This also is of God, we may not doubt.
47  "Is there an empty laugh?" Best called a shell
48From which a laugh has flown,
49A mask, a well
50That hath no water of its own,
51Part echo of a groan,
52Which, if it hide a cheat,
53Is a base counterfeit;
54But if one borrow
55A cloak to wrap a sorrow
56That it may pass unknown,
57Then can it not be empty. God doth dwell
58Behind the feigned gladness,
59Inhabiting a sacred core of sadness.
60  "Yet is there not an evil laugh?" Content--
61What follows?
62When Satan fills the hollows
63Of his bolt-riven heart
64With spasms of unrest,
65And calls it laughter; if it give relief
66To his great grief,
67Grudge not the dreadful jest.
68But if the laugh be aimed
69At any good thing that it be ashamed,
70And blush thereafter,
71Then it is evil, and it is not laughter.
72  There are who laugh, but know not why:
73Whether the force
74Of simple health and vigour seek a course
75Extravagant, as when a wave runs high,
76And tips with crest of foam the incontinent curve,
77Or if it be reserve
78Of power collected for a goal, which had,
79Behold! the man is fresh. So when strung nerve,
80Stout heart, pent breath, have brought you to the source
81Of a great river, on the topmost stie
82Of cliff, then have you bad
83All heaven to laugh with you; yet somewhere nigh
84A shepherd lad
85Has wondering looked, and deemed that you were mad.


1] The title means "God's laughter." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP.2.595; RPO 1996-2000.