Fool’s Gold

THE 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!”   (Edward Rowland Sill. 1841-1887)

I recently found a reference to this poem in The Little House in the Ozarks, a collection of articles by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved reading the Little House series as a young girl. (Who am I kidding, I still enjoy them as an adult.)

Laura often described herself as headstrong, struggling to do the what was right. Laura thought doing the right thing was easy for Mary Ingalls, and looked up to her older sister.

The following is the section of the poem Mrs. Wilder shared in her article; “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.”

Mrs. Wilder went on to sketch a few times she was accidentally rude to her friends. Saying the right thing wasn’t just a struggle in Mrs. Wilder’s childhood years. Or in mine either. So many time I have said the wrong thing, unwittingly, insulting people I care about.

“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?”

These words, especially the quote about the “ill-timed truth” remind me of Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

As evidenced by last week’s post, the Bible has much to say about our words so that they are “fitly spoken.”

Ephesians 4:15 – “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ…”

Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

One of the most powerful, substantial portions in the Bible that speaks of the power of the tongue comes from James 3. First, James uses the images of a bit in a horses mouth and a rudder of ship, both small items that can turn items much larger than they are.

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

If Ephesians is Paul’s exhortation to readers on how we should speak, James writes how things tend to be in reality. As Sill’s poem shows, saying the wrong thing is as much a problem of the knave as it is the knight. Often, it’s because our hearts are not right with God and our fellow man.

What can we do with our small and powerful tongue? Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, we will often need to pray the Fool’s Prayer.

“His pleading voice arose: ‘O Lord, Be merciful to me, a fool!'”


[My note: Thanks to H.G. for writing and sending me this guest post just as I was working on my own post about the power of the tongue. I think they dovetail quite nicely.]

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