Adventures in American Literature

This is a High School Text book from 1936. I found this treasure packed in an old trunk that had been left in the attic of a house my friends bought. My friends gave me choice of any of the books I wanted for my help cleaning out the attic that day. I chose this book and an 1851 edition of “The Sketch Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent” by Washington Irving.

Though I was in my thirties when I brought this delightful text book home, I discovered stories and poets that I might never have found in any other book. I discovered a trail of ideas, though first discussed in the 1930’s, that were new to me and that led me on an adventure in American literature just as the title had promised. I especially came to appreciate the poetry in this wonderful work. I want to open our adventure through books with the following poem from my dusty old textbook.


The Fool’s Prayer

Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

The royal feast was done; the King

Sought some new sport to banish care,

And to the 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 heartstrings 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!”

Published in: on July 1, 2006 at 6:39 pm  Comments (60)  

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60 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My 11th grade class is using this text book, I do anjoy it, mostly for the fact that it has a copy of “The Raven” in it and I can flip to that when whatever we are doing gets boring. But it’s an alright text book, in a student’s point of view.

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