The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

The Laughers

Spring!

And her hidden bugles up the street.

Spring -- and the sweet

Laughter of winds at the crossing;

Laughter of birds and a fountain tossing

Its hair in abandoned ecstasies.

Laughter of trees.

Laughter of shop-girls that giggle and blush;

Laugh of the tug-boat's impertinent fife.

Laughter followed by a trembling hush --

Laughter of love, scarce whispered aloud.

Then, stilled by no sacredness or strife,

Laughter that leaps from the crowd;

Seizing the world in a rush.

Laughter of life...

Earth takes deep breaths like a man who had feared he might smother,

Filling his lungs before bursting into a shout....

Windows are opened -- curtains flying out;

Over the wash-lines women call to each other.

And, under the calling, there surges, too clearly to doubt,

Spring, with the noises

Of shrill, little voices;

Joining in "Tag" and the furious chase

Of "I-spy," "Red Rover" and "Prisoner's Base";

Of the roller-skates whir at the sidewalk's slope,

Of boys playing marbles and girls skipping rope.

And there, down the avenue, behold,

The first true herald of the Spring --

The hand-organ gasping and wheezily murmuring

Its tunes ten-years old....

And the music, trivial and tawdry, has freshness and magical swing.

And over and under it,

During and after --

The laughter

Of Spring!...

And lifted still

With the common thrill,

With the throbbing air, the tingling vapor,

That rose like strong and mingled wines;

I turned to my paper,

And read these lines:

"Now that the Spring is here,

The war enters its bloodiest phase...

The men are impatient....

Bad roads, storms and the rigors of the winter

Have held back the contending armies....

But the recruits have arrived,

And are waiting only the first days of warm weather....

There will be terrible fighting along the whole line --

Now that Spring has come."

I put the paper down... Something struck out the sun -- something unseen;

Something arose like a dark wave to drown

The golden streets with a sickly green.

Something polluted the blossoming day

With the touch of decay.

The music thinned and died;

People seemed hollow-eyed.

Even the faces of children, where gaiety lingers,

Sagged and drooped like banners about to be furled--

And Silence laid its bony fingers

On the lips of the world...

A grisly quiet with the power to choke;

A quiet that only one thing broke;

One thing alone rose up thereafter...

Laughter!

Laughter of streams running red.

Laughter of evil things in the night;

Vultures carousing over the dead;

Laughter of ghouls.

Chuckling of idiots, cursed with sight.

Laughter of dark and horrible pools.

Scream of the bullets' rattling mirth,

Sweeping the earth.

Laugh of the cannon's poisonous breath....

And over the shouts and the wreckage and crumbling

The raucous and rumbling

Laughter of death.

Death that arises to sing, --

Hailing the Spring!