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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,

To whom, perchance, belongs

That wondrous Song of songs,

Sensuous and mystical,

Whereto devout souls turn

In fond, ecstatic dream,

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

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 thy 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 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

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 flatteries of the great.”