Among my books of verse, there is an old poem that I could scarcely do without. It is “The Fool’s Prayer” by Edward Rowland Sill and every now and then I have been impelled, in deep humiliation of spirit, to pray the prayer made by the old-time jester of the king.
Even tho one is not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, to be broken whenever the opportunity arises, still as the old year departs, like Lot’s wife, we cannot resist a backward glance. As we see in the retrospect, the things we should have done, we have a hope that the coming year will show a better record.
In my glance backward and hope for the future, one thing became plain to me — that I valued the love and appreciation of my friends more than ever before and that I would try to show my love for them; that I would be more careful of their feelings, more tactful and so endear myself to them.
A few days later a friend and I went together to an afternoon gathering where refreshments were served and we came back to my friend’s home just as the evening meal was ready. The Man of The Place failed to meet me and so I stayed unexpectedly. My friend made apologies for the simple meal and I said that I preferred plain food to such as we had in the afternoon, which was the same as saying that her meal was plain and that the afternoon refreshments had been finer. I felt that I had said the wrong thing and in a desperate effort to make amends I praised the soup which had been served. Not being satisfied to let well enough alone, because of my embarrassment, I continued, “It is so easy to have delicious soups, one can make them of just any little things that are left.”
And all the way home as I rode quietly beside The Man of the Place I kept praying “The Fool’s Prayer,”
O Lord be merciful to me, a fool.
We can afford to laugh at a little mistake such as that, however embarrassing it may be. To laugh and forget is one of the saving graces, but only a little later I was guilty of another mistake, over which I cannot laugh.
Mrs. G and I were in a group of women at a social affair, but having a little business to talk over, we stepped into another room where we were almost immediately followed by an acquaintance. We greeted her and then went on with our conversation, from which she was excluded. I forgot her presence and when I looked her way again she was gone. We had not been kind and, to make it worse, she was comparatively a stranger among us.
In a few minutes every one was leaving, without my having had a chance to make amends in any way. I could not apologize without giving a point to the rudeness but I thought that I would be especially gracious to her when we met again so she would not feel that we made her an outsider. Now I learn that it will be months before I see her again. I know that she is very sensitive and that I must have hurt her. Again and from the bottom of my heart, I prayed “The Fool’s Prayer,”
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,
O Lord, be merciful to me, a fool.
As we grow old enough to have a proper perspective, we see such things work out to their conclusion, or rather to a partial conclusion, for the effects go on and on endlessly. Very few of our misdeeds are with deliberate intent to do wrong. Our hearts are mostly in the right place but we seem to be weak in the head.
‘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.
Our faults no tenderness should ask
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunder — oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
Without doubt each one of us is fully entitled to pray the whole of “The Fool’s Prayer” and more especially the refrain,
O Lord, be merciful to me, a fool.
“A Few Minutes with a Poet” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, published in The Missouri Ruralist, January 5, 1919
To read “The Fool’s Prayer” by Edward Rowland Sill in its entirety click here.