When we discuss the Mormon trek, the focus is almost always on the physical suffering that many of the immigrants endured while traveling west. While certainly the physical struggle to cross the plains (covered in Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 34) was difficult, the pioneers suffered in other ways also. For example, many left family behind, generally compounded by their conversion to Mormonism, and often assuming that they would never see their family members again. The poem below describes just such a situation.
This poem is found in the memoir of Emily Pickering Anderson (1853-1930). She describes its genesis this way:
Miss Rhoda Watson, later becoming Brother Smith’s wife, was from the same branch as I and asked me to sit in a lifeboat which was on the deck of the ship. I said that I wished that I could compose some lines of poetry to send back home to my mother. She readily picked it up and together we composed the following:
Rhoda (1846-1919) and Emily evidently became friends while immigrating on the Minnesota in July 1868 (when Emily was 15 and Rhoda 22). Joining the Church may have been the cause of dissension in Emily’s family, because her father accompanied Emily and her older sister to Utah, while their mother remained in England. Her father died in 1870, less than 2 years after arriving there. Her mother died in 1914.
Both women married soon after arriving in Utah — Rhoda to Adam Craik Smyth in October 1868 and Emily to Anders Christian Anderson in October 1869, a month before her 16th birthday. How much of the poem each of the women composed isn’t known, nor do I know if either woman wrote more poetry later. Rhoda had two children, and settled in Manti after living in Salt Lake and in Cache county, Utah. Emily had 10 children, and also settled in Manti after living in Salt Lake.
Farewell to my Mother
by Emily Pickering and Rhoda Watson
- My mother dear, the time draws nigh,
- When you and I must part.
- It draws from me a heavy sigh;
- I write with aching heart.
- My native land is dear to me
- But thou art dearer still.
- Yet I shall gladly haste away,
- It is my Father’s will.
- And my Father’s own due time
- I’ll gladly haste away.
- Old England has no charms for me,
- I have no wish to stay.
- We’re going where we can make a home,
- Far in the distant West,
- Where want and misery is not known;
- The weary there can rest.
- And when we are in Deseret,
- My love for you the same shall be,
- Your kindness I shall ne’er forget.
- Mother, farewell, remember me.
- And when we are in our mountain home,
- Our friends we’ll bear in mind.
- Our constant prayer will be for them,
- In the darkness left behind.
- And now I leave my native land,
- Without a parting sigh.
- Home of my youth and childhood,
- Forever now, goodbye.
July 2, 1867; in Anderson, Mary Pickering. Reminiscence.
By the time that Emily Pickering and Rhoda Watson immigrated to Utah, preparing for the voyage was something Church leaders knew well how to do. The sea voyage was less than 2 weeks long, and the railroad had reduced the distance to be traveled on foot substantially. Traveling the entire distance by rail was just a year away.
But there is no way to really prepare for separation from a loved one for the rest of your life.