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King Solomon and the Ants


John Greenleaf Whittier
(1807-1892)

Out from Jerusalem
The king rode with his great
War chiefs and lords of state,
And Sheba’s queen with them.

Proud in the Syrian sun,
In gold and purple sheen,
The dusky Ethiop queen
Smiled on King Solomon.

Wisest of men, he knew
The languages of all
The creatures great or small
That trod the earth or flew.

Across an ant-hill led
The king’s path, and he heard
Its small folk, and their word
He thus interpreted:

“Here comes the king men greet
As wise and good and just,
To crush us in the dust
Under his heedless feet.”

The great king bowed his head,
And saw the wide surprise
Of the Queen of Sheba’s eyes
As he told her what they said.

“O king!” she whispered sweet,
“Too happy fate have they
Who perish in the way
Beneath thy gracious feet!

“Thou of the God-lent crown,
Shall these vile creatures dare
Murmur against thee where
The knees of kings kneel down?”

“Nay,” Solomon replied,
“The wise and strong should seek
The welfare of the weak;”
And turned his horse aside.

His train, with quick alarm,
Curved their leader round
The ant-hill’s peopled mound,
And left it free from harm.

The jeweled head bent low;
“O king!” she said, “henceforth
The secret of thy worth
And wisdom well I know.

“Happy must be the State
Whose ruler heedeth more
The murmurs of the poor
Than the flatteries of the great.”

 

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