Literary BMGD #1: Address to the Book of Mormon

I’m pleased that Julie has begun a series of posts that cover this year’s lessons on the Book of Mormon. With this post I will begin a kind of companion series: Mormon poetry and literary texts that can accompany each week’s lessons. Since Mormon literature often gets short shrift (usually from those who haven’t actually read what they dismiss), I think that connecting this literature to a regular part of our worship may help members become more aware of and familiar with our culture.

While I have been reading through early Mormon poetry and literature for a few years now, I haven’t read everything, and I don’t know that I’ve chosen the best examples of what could go well with each lessons. If you know of something better, please, add a link or reference to it in the comments. I will also show a bit of a bias towards unfamiliar items, avoiding things like hymns because they are so familiar (I will list a few of the familiar ones at the end of each post, however).

Regardless, I’ll try to find things that are enjoyable and helpful.

This week’s opening lesson looks at the role and importance of the Book of Mormon, a subject of many early poems, especially those used in hymns celebrating the Book of Mormon and the restoration. But not all poems were made in to hymns, many because they aren’t suitable for musical accompaniment.

This poem, published in the February 1, 1847 issue of the Millennial Star, is one of those that celebrates the book of Mormon:

Address to the Book of Mormon

by W. E. Shaw
Record of records, book of books divine,
Thy heavenly precepts and thy truths sublime,
The pure injunctions which thy leaves unfold,
Prove thou wast wrote by holy men of old.
The prophets long since wrote and spoke of thee.
And of thy power in causing men to see;
When midnight darkness reign’d through ev’ry clime,
‘Twas said that God would cause thy light to shine.
‘Twas also said that thou wouldst spring from earth,
While righteousness from heaven came bursting forth,
To free from error those who would obey,
And them prepare for an eventful day.
Isaiah, wrapt in vision, could behold
A time when human creeds would be extoll’d
When seers and prophets all would cover’d be,
And God provok’d men’s wickedness to see.
He view’d men drunk with folly, not with drink;
Want of true priesthood made them wrongly think,
Their thoughts of God, man, heaven, and hell,
To reason, truth, and scripture bade farewell.
Sect after sect arose, exclaiming thus,
“All these are damnable, come, join with us;”
And thus men built up churches to get gain,
And starv’d the poor, their priesthood to maintain.
The prophet saw this state of things, but knew
Of Joseph’s land, its hidden treasures too,
He knew that nothing dark would lie conceal’d,
Nor ought be hid that would not be revealed.
He viewed a land which symboliz’d great wings,
Beyond the flow of Ethiop’s august springs,
Which yet would yield this glorious book of truth,
To cheer the hearts of hoary age, also of smiling youth.
Now I behold thee, open to my gaze,
The Stick of Ephraim sent in these last days.
To warn the nations, gather Israel in,
Bring Christ to earth, and make an end of sin.
… … … …  Lennestown, Campsie, November, 1846.

And, here are references to a few additional works that also may work well with this lesson:

  • Anonymous, What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold. A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe, 1840 (current hymn #16)
  • Phelps, W. W. An angel came down from the mansions of glory. Evening and Morning Star, February 1833.
  • Pratt, Parley P. An Angel from on high, A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Use of the Latter Day Saints, 1844. (current hymn #13)
  • Snow, Eliza R. The Presentation of the Book of Mormon to Queen Victoria. Times and Seasons, 1 January 1844; and in Millennial Star, April 1844.


3 comments for “Literary BMGD #1: Address to the Book of Mormon

  1. I’m guessing you won’t get a lot of discussion in this series, Kent, but I’ll be among those reading, and looking forward to what you can find, especially if you have poems that show members’ awareness of the Book of Mormon narrative itself.

  2. Thanks, Ardis. You may be right about the issue of awareness of the narrative, at least among the earlest LDS writings. But I’m not limiting what I include to any specific period, or even to writings that demonstrate some knowledge of the narrative — the literature may simply address the subject of the lesson.

    Of course, there are some that indicate a knowledge of the BOM narrative — like Corianton, or Cummings’ poem “The Death of Teancum” which you already published.

  3. I think there was more awareness of the Book of Mormon narrative early on than some scholars have acknowledged. I mean, while direct quotations may not show up in many sermons, how else but familiarity with the narrative can we explain the large crop of Nephis and Almas and Moronis and Mahonri Moriancumrs born to that first generation? It seems more natural to me for stories to have entered Mormon consciousness before we quite knew how to incorporate the theology, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find Book of Mormon-themed poetry early on, especially in the kind of home-grown poems that wouldn’t have stood the test of time for their quality. So know that if you do have such poems in your reservoir, those will be ones that I will especially enjoy. But I’ll look carefully at them all — whatever subject and whatever era.

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