Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
King Solomon and the Ants
 
OUT from Jerusalem
  The king rode with his great
  War chiefs and lords of state,
And Sheba’s queen with them;
 
Comely, but black withal,        5
  To whom, perchance, belongs
  That wondrous Song of songs,
Sensuous and mystical,
 
Whereto devout souls turn
  In fond, ecstatic dream,        10
  And through its earth-born theme
The Love of loves discern.
 
Proud in the Syrian sun,
  In gold and purple sheen,
  The dusky Ethiop queen        15
Smiled on King Solomon.
 
Wisest of men, he knew
  The languages of all
  The creatures great or small
That trod the earth or flew.        20
 
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        25
  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        30
  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 thy way        35
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?”        40
 
“Nay,” Solomon replied,
  “The wise and strong should seek
  The welfare of the weak,”
And turned his horse aside.
 
His train, with quick alarm,        45
  Curved with their leader round
  The ant-hill’s peopled mound,
And left it free from harm.
 
The jewelled head bent low;
  “O king!” she said, “henceforth        50
  The secret of thy worth
And wisdom well I know.
 
“Happy must be the State
  Whose ruler heedeth more
  The murmurs of the poor        55
Than flatteries of the great.”

  1877.
 
 
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