Literary DCGD #23: The Transformation

Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow

I occasionally see from both inside and outside of the Church those who suggest that Mormons are somehow against education. While there certainly have been some anti-intellectual ideas floating around the Church almost from the beginning, the general tenor of Church teachings have always been supportive of education, and D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #23 is no different. Church leaders have repeatedly, since the days of Joseph Smith, made it clear that education is not just good, it is part of the very purpose of life.

Today’s poem sees education as a crucial element in the progress of man:

This is another of the large corpus of poems by Mormonism’s best known poet, Eliza R. Snow, who was married to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and was the second General President of the Relief Society. Selections of her poetry are found in a two-volume work she compiled, Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political, which was published in 1856 and 1877. Ten of her poems are currently in the LDS hymnal, and several others once were in editions of the LDS hymnal, but have since been dropped. She is the first LDS poet to have her complete work collected (Eliza R Snow: The Complete Poetry).



The Transformation

Or the Tool and the Gem.

by Eliza R. Snow

I saw a thing of rudest form,

From mountain’s base brought forth—
A useless gem—devoid of charm,

And wrapp’d in cumbrous earth.


Its rough exterior met the eye

With a repulsive show;
For every charm was forc’d to lie

In buried depths below.


The Sculptor came;—I wonder’d when
His pliant tool was brought;
He pass’d it o’er the gem, and then

I mark’d the change it wrought.


Each cumbrance from its surface, clear’d—

The gem expos’d to view—
Its nature and its worth appear’d—

Its form expansive grew.


By gentle strokes, it was set free—

By softer touch, refin’d;
Till beauty, grace and majesty,

Were with its nature join’d.


Its lustre kindled to a blaze—

‘Twas Wisdom’s lamp begun,
And soon the splendour of its rays

Eclips’d the noon-day sun.


That gem was choin’d in crudeness, till

The Sculptor lent his aid;
I wonder’d at the ready skill

His potent hand display’d.


But ’twas the virtue of his tool,

Of fine, transforming edge;
Which serv’d for pencil mould and rule—

For polisher and sledge.


That tool requires a skilful hand—

That gem, no charm should bind;
That tool is Education, and

That gem, the Human Mind.

Times and Seasons, November 15, 1841


While Snow doesn’t dive into details of the role of education, its clear that she sees education as crucial to the development of humanity. I like her view of education as a tool to shape the human mind.

Some of the ways she describes the tool involve some interesting imagery. In the third stanza, for example, education is a “pliant tool,” one flexible enough that the underlying gem can be as large as possible. In the fifth stanza, it is education that is gentle; something that seems to me clearly true when it is compared to education’s principle alternative—experience. And in the eighth stanza we learn that education has a “fine transforming edge.”

But most of all I like the implication behind Snow’s poem, that education is a vital part of transforming mankind into perfected beings.