Literary DCGD #17: A Satire on Avarice

John Lyon

John Lyon

Its hard to find poetry about tithing!

I suppose since tithing wasn’t emphasized as much by the Church before the beginning of the 20th century, Mormon poets didn’t focus on the concept. Or, it might simply be that the subject matter doesn’t work well in poetry; certainly the word “tithing” isn’t very poetic, leaving me with visions of bad poetry in which every line ends with a present participle. Its enough to set my ears ringing!

But, I suspect that tithing is such a basic concept that my chronological review of poetry, still mired in the late 1840s, just hasn’t come across the poetic reactions to the principle. But I did finally come across the following poem, which gets close, mentioning “the outlay of your money for the Church.”

Its author, John Lyon, was probably the second best known Mormon poet (at least for poetry). In many ways I like his poetry better than his better-known contemporary and poetic foil, Eliza R. Snow. His poetry is often lighter and more approachable, covering subjects like currency and the death of a canary. Born in 1803, Lyon was largely self-taught, only learning to read at the age of 25, but nevertheless soon becoming an active literary participant, working for seven different newspapers in his native Scotland and assisting in the production of several anthologies of the work of other poets. He joined the LDS Church in 1844 and published his first LDS poem, “Man,” in the Millennial Star in 1845. By 1849, British Mission President Orson Spencer lauded his work as “genius” and providing “unmistakable melody and power.” Lyon served an LDS mission in England, published a volume of poems, The Harp of Zion, and then immigrated to Utah, where he was made a patriarch in 1872. His Utah poems were published posthumously in the volume Songs of a Pioneer.


A Satire on Avarice

By John Lyon

O ye who tremble at expense, and fear
The outlay of your money for the Church!
I’d have you ever this in mind to bear,
If you’d be saving, nor be left in lurch,
Tie up your purse strings with a double knot,
Button each pocket, poverty cry out,
Till all believe you’re not worth half a groat,
And all you have is snugly up the spout.
Then you are safe! nor need to fear a frown
From any one, no matter what folk say,—
The Lord has said it and he will defray.
Your bread upon the waters you have thrown,
And will most surety find it after many days,
The measure meted He again repays.

The harp of Zion: a collection of poems.
S. W. Richards, 1853.


While we often discuss the fact that tithing is a commandment, and urge members to obey that commandment, its not as frequent that we look into the reasons why some people don’t pay tithing. Yes, its a lack of faith, but that is true of every commandment, isn’t it? Its also other things. Greed, certainly—which gets right to the claims that Lyon makes in this poem. Its also that our “hearts are set on the things of this world.” And, less frequently I believe, its that some members don’t like how they see the money being spent.

Lyon not only tackles greed in the poem above, but also points out the issue of blessings, suggesting that supporting the church is like casting bread upon the waters:

And will most surety find it after many days,
The measure meted He again repays.

Or, as the saying I heard repeatedly as a child says: What goes around, comes around…

5 comments for “Literary DCGD #17: A Satire on Avarice

  1. Lorian
    April 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    I’m thinking diligently for more rhymes. Tithing…writhing…no, I think that’s not exactly what you were going for. Okay. I got nuthin. ;)

  2. April 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Yea, innumerable “…ing” words aren’t the way to go.

    “Tithe” occurred to me also, but I still ended up with “writhe” as about the only rhyme (I haven’t checked a rhyming dictionary yet). And “tenth” isn’t very promising either.

    However, I would be open to a good original poem for this series, if anyone wants to write a poem for any one of the future Gospel Doctrine lessons or Priesthood/Relief Soecity lessons.

  3. Lorian
    April 29, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Well, there’s always “scythe,” but of course, that brings its own set of difficulties. :D

  4. YvonneS
    April 29, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Blithe, knife, lithe all rhyme with tithe. There are a few more very unusual words. Maybe rhyming other words in a poem would work.

  5. April 29, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I was excluding rhymes with the unvoiced “th” instead of the voiced “th” in tithe.

    But, you may be able to get away with that rhyme. I’ve certainly seen much looser rhymes among a lot of poetry.

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