The Fool’s Prayer

I recently ran across an old poem that I first read many years ago and which I think is of great worth:


by: Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

HE royal feast was done; the King                      
Sought some new sport to banish care,                      
And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,                      
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”                      
The jester doffed his cap and bells,                      
And stood the mocking court before;                      
They could not see the bitter smile                      
Behind the painted grin he wore.                      
He bowed his head, and bent his knee                      
Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;                      
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,                      
Be merciful to me, a fool!                      
“No pity, Lord, could change the heart                      
From red with wrong to white as wool;                      
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,                      
Be merciful to me, a fool!                      
“‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep                      
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;                      
‘T is by our follies that so long                      
We hold the earth from heaven away.                      
“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,                      
Go crushing blossoms without end;                      
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust                      
Among the heart-strings of a friend.                      
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–                      
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?                      
The word we had not sense to say–                      
Who knows how grandly it had rung!                      
“Our faults no tenderness should ask.                      
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;                      
But for our blunders — oh, in shame                      
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.                      
“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;                      
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool                      
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,                      
Be merciful to me, a fool!”                      
The room was hushed; in silence rose                      
The King, and sought his gardens cool,                      
And walked apart, and murmured low,                      
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”                    
“The Fool’s Prayer” is                    reprinted from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900.                    Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.



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