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!
      "'T is 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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