Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Fool's Prayer - An Encounter With Edward Sill





It was in Law School that I met Edward Rowland Sill. No, Sill was not a Law student. He was not one of my law professors. Sill was not even a Nigerian. He was an American. And by the time I encountered him he was already dead for more than a century.

I had gone for breakfast at Calabar Kitchen behind D Block. Take it from me, you need a full African breakfast to withstand seven hours of legal lectures. At the entrance of the restaurant, I saw two kids – no, they were not law students. They must be children of the owner of the restaurant. They were playing with a hardcover brown book. At first glance, I thought it was Okoye on Civil Procedure. (Of course you remember Nwabueze v. Obi-Okoye now.)

I approached them and collected the book. They were on the verge of tearing the pages. I looked at the title: One Hundred and One Famous Poems. I opened it. That was when I met Edward Rowland Sill. One thing I was sure of immediately I opened the book was that I was going to keep it.


The challenge was how to take the book from the kids. As a law student, I knew it was not proper to just take the book like that. It would be illegal. As the kids were kids, Infant Relief Act of 1874 came to my mind. They could not validly enter into a contract of sale with me. Again, I was not sure of their title to the book. Upon enquiry, they told me that they found the book under a nearby tree. I was not sure whether that would satisfy the requirements of title under the Sales of Goods Act of 1893.  I made a mental note to check later.

As a compromise, we agreed that they would lend me the book. To ensure that the contract was valid in law, I gave them a token. You have to be very careful in law school. Everything must be done properly. We shook hands. I collected the book. They collected my money. They didn't give me a receipt. I didn't ask for one.

From that moment I became hooked. Edward Sill was like no other poet. His words were punchy. His imagery was vivid. I read and read. My roommates, Akeem Balogun and Abodun Badiora suffered in silence as I read and dramatized the poems to them.


Two days later the honeymoon was over. I was on my way to the class when I saw the notice on the board. Apparently the owner of the book – a co-student – forgot the book at Calabar Kitchen after a delicious meal of edikaikong with akpu! With pain in my heart, I returned the book to the rightful owner. He was delirious with happiness. He hugged me! That’s what a good book does to you.

Today, Edward Sill is available online.  I commend his works to you. In the meantime, let me leave you with one of his best poems, The Fool's Prayer.





The Fool's Prayer

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!' 

10 comments:

  1. Maybe because I'm not a lawyer, I don't have a full understanding of the poem. Kindly help a brother

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    1. Thank you for reading the poem of Edward Sill. The King wanted to make fun of the Palace Jester, so he asked the Jester (Mr. Fool), to pray for them. But instead of praying like a fool, the Jester prayed solemnly for God to be merciful to him because of his human weakness. The poem highlights the weakness of Man and that we are all fools who deserve God's mercy. The King was so moved by the prayer that he himself realised that he was also a fool. Read it again now, slowly. You now understand it? Good.

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  2. You write so beautifully,reading your stories feels like sitting beside a calm flowing rivèr in the cool of the evening and funny enough it sets my heart longing for my lost love of reading and writing stories. Mj

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  3. You are totally a blessing to the readers of your generation. I really enjoyed your handiwork.

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    1. I am humbled by your kind words. Thank you very much.

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  4. I am hooked on this blog, I swear. Onigegewura brought to fore an inner me, am a lawyer I read history in the university and later left to read law, however I always love history in which I made an A1 at the O levels and B in HSC I also always assume myself to love poems though it takes me repeated readings to comprehend most. Its a deja vu

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  5. I am hooked on this blog, I swear. Onigegewura brought to fore an inner me, am a lawyer I read history in the university and later left to read law, however I always love history in which I made an A1 at the O levels and B in HSC I also always assume myself to love poems though it takes me repeated readings to comprehend most. Its a deja vu

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  6. You are a genius. You deserve Nobel award. Keep it up

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