Be merciful to me, a fool

I have a funny memory of when I was 10 years old. I lived at the time in Marion, Montana with my mom and second step-dad.  We had an aluminum wood shed out back, just between the house and the forest.

I spent a lot of time there, chopping firewood to keep the house warm. One day I was outside and for some reason (I’m sure it wasn’t malicious), I stuck the ax into the shed. Just swung it over my head and “whump,” it sunk into the metal and left this huge hole.

In awe over how cool that felt, I tried it again. And again. And again.

Bored now, I stepped farther back, and tried now to throw the ax and make it stick. Several times I succeeded, but I left some mark with each try. Soon I was ducking and weaving between trees, finding an opening, and swoosh… my ax would fly through the air and hit the shed. Yeah, okay, I was an idiot, and I must have looked ridiculous.

It sure was fun while it lasted. But then it wasn’t so fun.

Sometimes we do things that cause damage. Sometimes it’s to ourselves, sometimes it’s to others, and often it’s unintentional. What matters most is that you correct your course early and often, humbly making amends as much as possible.

There’s a poem I’ve always loved that addresses it nicely:

The Fool’s Prayer
by Edward R. Sill

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!

‘ ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis 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!’

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8 Responses

  1. You have brought up some of my favorite poems and it makes me wonder if it would be useful to compile a book of poetry of LDS. What is your thoughts?

  2. Sounds like a worthy endeavor. I’ll start a page for it. Got any more submissions you’d suggest? I have a whole plethera that I love – I’ve long been in the habit of memorizing poetry. Kind of fruity perhaps, but who cares. ;-)

  3. Not fruity at all. FYI, in the Celtic culture a poet is a truth teller. It is well beleved that if a poet told a lie they would forever loose their gift and it would be such a crime in the community that instead of holdeing a reverent place in society they would have beed shuned and in some cases banished. In that culture a poet holds a sacred obligation, kind-of like the preisthood in our church.

  4. As a child I was allowed on Sunday afternoons to study one of my Arthur Mee Encyclopedia books. I was immediately struck by The Fool’s Prayer, although, at the time, the true meaning of it all escaped me. I learned it by heart and would often quote it quietly to myself – particularly the verse “these clumsy feet -” In later years I have often re-read it and I once used that verse in a letter of sincere apology to someone I had carelessly hurt.

  5. We all play the part of the King (in this poem) at times. I just love how the fool is the wisest of them all, and the King takes the honest lesson to heart.

    unlike Mr.T I pity those who are unable to see themselves as a Fool. Pride, is a destructive force, and it leads us to that end blindly.


  6. Marelene… yeah, I love this poem for it’s density of true principles. I’ve often had such “clumsy feet”, and even more often for me is the “ill-timed truth” and the “words we had not sense to say”. Those always stir up very specific, recent regrets.

    Ditchu, I love Mr. T!

    Also, that’s one of the things I love most about this poem, is the concept that the truly noble (the king), is the one that allows themselves to stand corrected, even by the “fool”, and seeing the fool in themselves, will humble themselves accordingly.

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