Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LAUGHING WOMAN, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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THE LAUGHING WOMAN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Once I heard a woman laughing
Last Line: And life still crawls with maggots—that were men!
Subject(s): Happiness; Laughter; Love; Smiles; Sound; Joy; Delight


Once I heard a woman laughing—
Not like laughter of the women you have heard;
Syllables whose beauty blinds you, and reminds you
Of a brook in sunlight, or a sweet, leaf-hidden bird.
There is laughter that is human
Though shot through with notes of pain—
And then there is that laughter of an old, old, evil woman,
Raising red and burning mists within the brain.

In the mad, gin-reeking dance-hall,
Through the brainless oaths and shrieks, above the smoke
Of stale tobacco, burning to man's yearning
For the swinish, acrid incense—high and shrill her babbling broke.
There is laughter that is human
Though its poignance starts our tears—
And then there is a laughter like the laughter of that woman,
Freezing hearts, and ringing raucous in our ears.

There were mingled in her laughter
Girlish love-words, wittold curses, jests obscene.
And the dancers swarmed around her, sunk profounder
In their beastly, battening stupor—love grown loathly and unclean.
There is laughter—bitter-human
Though it sears us hot and deep—
And then there is a laughter like the laughter of that woman,
Worse than all the ghastly nightmares known to sleep.

Old gray hair, that had been honored
In a life less foul than this, less mad with lust—
Gray hair, defiled, polluted, the refuted
Boast of Man, the world's white banner dragged and trampled in the dust!
There is laughter that is human,
Though the painfullest, the harshest—yes—and then—
And then there is the laughter of that old, old, evil woman.
And life still crawls with maggots—that were men!





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