Literary BMGD #46: Trials and Happiness

I often wonder how Mormon managed to keep it together. He saw his own civilization decaying around him, perhaps while he was in the midst of abridging the record of the Jaredites, summarizing the details of their decline and destruction, which was so similar to his own. Yet despite this, in the final chapters of Ether (12-15 are covered by this lesson), Mormon talks about the role of faith. Its an example of faith, I suppose, that he was able to show its importance while he himself must have felt in the midst of trials. And perhaps it is from enduring these trials that Mormon himself gained such insight into faith.

So the poem selected to accompany this Gospel Doctrine lesson is one from long-time Relief Society President Emmeline B. Wells. Like her better known predecessor, Eliza R. Snow, Wells was an accomplished poet and author. She was also tremendously active in Mormon Utah, serving as the second editor of the Woman’s Exponent, taking over soon after it was founded, running the Relief Society’s grain storage program (a predecessor of today’s Welfare program) from 1875, and serving as a voice for the woman’s suffrage movement in Utah. She began her service as president of the Relief Society in 1910, at age 82. She died three weeks after she was released in 1921 at age 93.

Wells also knew suffering like few of her contemporaries. Abandoned by her first husband after the death of their infant child in Nauvoo, Wells became a plural wife first to Newell K. Whitney, and after his death to Daniel H. Wells, but in every marriage suffered through poverty, as each husband struggled to support the family. Even her ownership of the Woman’s Exponent was a struggle, as the periodical went through 37 years of struggling to break even. If anyone in pioneer Utah understood trial and tribulation, it was Wells.


Trials and Happiness

by Emmeline B. Wells

When all is beautiful, and bright and fair,

And tranquil flows the pleasant stream of life;
We may forget its sorrows, toil, or care.

Perchance e’en bitterness, and pain, and strife.
Some precious lessons, trials may have taught;

We may be purer, wiser and more just,
Some beauty in our souls may have been wrought,

Through faith in God, obedience and trust.
And tho’ we did not clearly understand

The voice that whispered thrillingly, “be still,”
Yet we are sure, there was a guiding hand,

That buoy’d us up life’s duties to fulfill.
And when our weary feet had found a place,

Where we might rest upon the great highway;
Then we have gathered courage, strength and grace.

To bear the burdens of another day.
And thus we struggle on ‘gainst adverse powers,

For earth-life is not perfect, nor complete;
Yet there are hallowed moments, blissful hours,

Wherein we quaff ambrosial nectar sweet,
And stand as ’twere upon enchanted ground.

Breathing an atmosphere of purity,
While love and beauty everywhere abound.

And joy, and light, and heavenly charity.
The past with all its dreariness and pains,

Sinks into insignificance compared to this;
And for the time a brilliant summer reigns,

That floods the soul with light and happiness;
Then hope sits high within the human heart,

Waving her banner o’er the buried past,
And we seem strong, to choose “that better part.”

Knowing in pleasant lines our lot is cast.
Our vision of the infinite—afar

Is quickened; and we draw so near—
We almost see the gates of life ajar—

And angel voices chanting praises hear.
And we interpret—-in our own, poor way

Some of the doubts and mysteries we’ve seen—
But in the light of an eternal day,

Then we shall know, why, all these things have been.

The Contributor, v1 n10, July 1880, p. 230


I like how Wells’ view of trials is iterative — each experience building on previous ones, allowing us:

Our vision of the infinite—afar

Is quickened; and we draw so near—
We almost see the gates of life ajar—

And angel voices chanting praises hear.

Perhaps that is what kept Mormon going, what helped him work and fight and, yes, endure to the end. His trials had given him that vision. In comparison, our own trials seem so weak and that vision quite fleeting. Perhaps poems like this will help us gain a small piece of that vision without the difficulties of such trials.

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