Life Is A Jest
The words “Life is a jest; and all things show it.
I thought so once; but now I know it.” are
On an old tombstone with John Gay below it.
He wrote The Beggar’s Opera, and his star
Once lit the London stage. I can’t recall
The way he died, or if his final days
Were full of bitterness about his fall
From fortune, or a play that won no praise.
What I remember is that epitaph—
Just the right touch of Restoration wit.
Only a man who can make others laugh
Sees to the bottom of depression’s pit:
A gaping, hungry hole in every floor
Against which jokes are just a thin trap door.
“But doctor—I AM Pagliacci.”
Every time a tragedian looks down,
He sees what he expects—a gaping hole
Of nothingness—and smiles. But when a clown
Sees that, he frowns, and broods, and feels his soul
Infected with a challenge. “I won’t laugh,”
Emptiness says. “You’re just wasting your breath.”
Great clowns hear that and want their epitaph
To read: I GOT A SPIT-TAKE LAUGH FROM DEATH.
But it’s like Daffy Duck auditioning
For vaudeville—tripping over his own feet
Until at last he gets the golden ring
With the one killer bit he can’t repeat.
And that’s Despair: it cracks up like pack ice
At the one punch line clowns cannot do twice.
Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells