A Tale of the Talmud

When Solomon was reigning in his glory,
Unto his throne the Queen of Sheba came,
(So in the Talmud you may read the story)
Drawn by the magic of the monarch’s fame,
To see the splendors of his court, and bring
Some fitting tribute to the mighty king.

Nor this alone; much had her Highness heard
What flowers of learning graced the royal speech;
What gems of wisdom dropped with every word;
What wholesome lessons he was wont to teach
In pleasing proverbs; and she wished, in sooth,
To know if Rumor spoke the simple truth.

Besides, the queen had heard (which piqued her most)
How through the deepest riddles he could spy;
How all the curious arts that women boast
Were quite transparent to his piercing eye;
And so the queen had come–a royal guest–
To put the sage’s cunning to the test.

And straight she held before the monarch’s view,
In either hand, a radiant wreath of flowers;
The one, bedecked with every charming hue,
Was newly culled from Nature’s choicest bowers;
The other, no less fair in every part,
Was the rare product of divinest Art.

“Which is the true, and which the false?” she said,
Great Solomon was silent. All-amazed,
Each wondering courtier shook his puzzled head,
While at the garlands long the monarch gazed,
As one who sees a miracle, and fain,
For very rapture, ne’er would speak again.

“Which is the true?” once more the woman asked,
Pleased at the fond amazement of the king;
“So wise a head should not be hardly tasked,
Most learned liege, with such a trivial thing!”
But still the sage was silent; it was plain
A deepening doubt perplexed the royal brain.

While thus he pondered, presently he sees,
Hard by the casement,–so the story goes,–
A little band of busy, bustling bees,
Hunting for honey in a withered rose.
The monarch smiled, and raised his royal head;
“Open the window!”–that was all he said.

The window opened at the king’s command;
Within the room the eager insects flew,
And sought the flowers in Sheba’s dexter hand!
And so the king and all the courtiers knew
That wreath was Nature’s; and the baffled queen
Returned to tell the wonders she had seen.

My story teaches (every tale should bear
A fitting moral) that the wise may find
In trifles light as atoms in the air,
Some useful lesson to enrich the mind,
Some truth designed to profit or to please,–
As Israel’s king learned wisdom from the bees!
John G. Saxe.