This coming week’s Come Follow Me lesson discusses the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, including the visits of Moroni to Joseph Smith and the scripture’s translation and publication. Like other early events in the restoration, these events have been portrayed artistically many times, and will undoubtedly be portrayed many more times.
Clinton F. Larson’s Sonnet on the Book of Mormon
I’ll start my selected poems for this week with a sonnet by Clinton F. Larson (no relation — our last names are spelled differently). Larson was a BYU professor who became the University’s first poet-in-residence. He is also known as the playwright of several well-regarded and very Mormon plays, including Coriantumer and Moroni (1962) and of The Mantle of the Prophet (1966). His poetry also appeared in the seminal anthology of Mormon literature, A Believing People.
Sonnet on the Book of Mormon
By Clinton F. Larson (1940)
The ruins murmur on unceasingly
To testify there was another day …
This western hemisphere has known a glory
That we know little of, except to say:
‘I felt their grandeur in the backward look …’
They had a scripture from Omnipotence:
So from the dust, from them to us, the book
Came down, spanning timeless decadence
To tell us of the nations and the forms
That have gone down beneath consuming time;
What temporal monument, against the storms,
Can hold steadfastly in artistic rhyme?
But Mayan ruins speak in scriptural flow
With far more eloquence than forms can know.
Address to the Book of Mormon by Shaw
In England, poet W. E. Shaw also praised the role of the Book of Mormon in his 1846 poem. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out anything about Shaw. He does seem to have written an additional poem in 1849, also published in the Millennial Star, but other than that, I haven’t been able to learn anything about him. The pioneer database shows one William E. Shaw who emigrated to Utah, but it doesn’t say whether or not he came from the United Kingdom. I’m afraid, like too many of our literary pioneers, we don’t really know anything about him.
Nevertheless, he left us a testimony in poetry:
Address to the Book of Mormon
By W. E. Shaw (1846)
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.
Hart’s Interview with David Whitmer
To finish up this week’s poetry, I’m including a long poem by James H. Hart. Hart joined the Church in 1847 in his native England and served as a missionary there and in France before immigrating to the United States in 1854. He stayed in St. Louis, serving on the High Council there before traveling on to Utah in 1857. And in 1864 he settled in the Bear Lake Valley in what became Paris, Idaho. He served three terms in the Idaho legislature before his polygamous marriages made him ineligible. Then, while traveling for the Church to the east, he stopped in Richmond, Missouri and met David Whitmer. The following poem recounts his interview with the then last remaining of the three witnesses:
Interview with David Whitmer
By James H. Hart (1881)
I met an aged man the other day,
In Richmond, Missouri, in County Ray.
His step was feeble, but his eye was bright,
And in it beamed intelligence and light.
He once was chosen witness, with eleven,
Of ministrations from the courts of Heaven.
His fellow witnesses have passed away,
And he has now but little time to stay.
Three score and ten have bleached his aged head;
His Prophet friends lie numbered with the dead.
He, on Missouri’s battle field, alone
Was left to grapple with the dread cyclone.
It took away his home, but left intact
The room and box with scripture records packed,
And finished up its sacrilegious raid,
Within the old churchyard, among the dead.
It ruthlessly destroyed the tombs, which care
Of sympathetic friends erected there;
And recklessly tore up the very ground
Where Oliver’s remains might once be found.
Give me the quiet valleys of the west,
Of all our broad domain, in which to rest;
For there the righteous may escape the rod
Of the Eternal and Almighty God.
“Pray is it true,” I asked, “that you have been
With heavenly messengers, and have seen
The records, called the plates of brass and gold,
Of which Moroni, in his book, has told?
“Tis said you saw an angel from on high,
While other witnesses were standing by,
And that the messenger commanded you
To testify that this great work is true.
“Not questioning your statement that I’ve read,
Or what the other witnesses have said,
Yet I would like to know from you direct,
If we have read or heard these things correct.”
He lifted up his voice, and thus replied:
“My written statement I have ne’er denied;
I saw the messenger, and heard his voice,
And other things that made my heart rejoice.
“Joseph Smith and Oliver were there,
And what I saw and heard I do declare,
With words of soberness and sacred truth;
I’ve borne this testimony from my youth.
“I do not know the angel’s rank or name,
Who on the great and glorious mission came;
I know that he was clothed with power and might,
And was surrounded with effulgent light.
“No tongue can tell the glory and the power
That was revealed to us in that blest hour.
The plates of brass and gold, with angel’s care,
Were placed before us as we waited there.
“We saw the fine engravings on them, too,
And heard the voice declare the book was true.
And what we saw and heard was by the grace
Of Him who died to save the human race.
“We’ve done as they commanded us to do,
And testify the Book of Mormon’s true,
And was translated by the power given
The Prophet Joseph by the God of Heaven.
“Thousands of people have been here to see
The copy Oliver has left with me;
The characters, moreover, Martin took
Professor Anthon-words of sacred book.
“Some visit me who ‘Mormonism’ hate;
Some ranking low, and some of high estate.
I tell them all, as now I tell to you,
The Book of Mormon is of God, and true.
“In yonder little room I have, with care,
Preserved the copy and the words so rare-
The very words from Nephi’s sacred book,
That Martin to Professor Anthon took.
“If this be not truth, there is no truth,
And I have been mistaken from my youth.
If I’m mistaken, you may know from hence
That there’s no God, no law, no life, no sense.
“I know there is a God-I’ve heard his voice,
And in his power and truth do still rejoice;
Though fools may ridicule and laugh to-day,
They yet shall know the truth of what I say.
“I’ve suffered persecution at the hands,
Of hireling preachers and their Christian bands;
I’ve braved their hatred, and have them withstood
While thirsting for the youthful Prophet’s blood.
“They came, four hundred strong, with visage bold,
And said, ‘Deny this story you have told,
And by our sacred honor we’ll engage
To save you from the mob’s infuriate rage.’
“A mighty power came on me, and I spake
In manner that did make the mobbers quake,
And trembling seized the surging crowd, and fear,
And evidenced to me that God was near.”
Thus spake the aged witness of the way
The Lord commenced his work in this our day.
If men will not believe what God hath said
They’ll not believe should one rise from the dead.
Here was a man who, in his youth, amazed
Had on a messenger from Heaven gazed,
Presenting plates of rich and varied size,
And filled his soul with wonder and surprise.
Not only he, but there were other ten,
All truthful, brave and honorable men,
With same integrity, have ever told
That they had seen the sacred plates of gold.
I asked a Gentile lawyer if he knew
The witnesses, and if he thought them true.
“Well, yes,” he said, “I’ve known them from my youth,
And know them to be men of sterling truth.
“What David Whitmer says the people know,
May be regarded as precisely so.
He’s not a man to shade the truth, or lie,
But one on whom you safely may rely.
“And Mr. Cowdery, I have known him too;
More truthful man than he I never knew.
And as lawyer he was shrewd and bright,
And always made an honorable fight.”
“Think you that Joseph Smith could them deceive,
By forging plates, could make them all believe
That they had seen an angel of the Lord,
Or perjure them, and all, with one accord?”
“These men,” said he, “were not that kind of stuff
Of clever swindlers the world has not enough,
To blind their eyes or swerve them from the truth,
And such has been their character from youth.”
I asked a Gentile doctor, and was told
That David Whitmer’s word was good as gold.
“His honesty is fairly crystallized-
His name will ever be immortalized.
“Although its all a mystery to me,
I know he’s honest as a man can be;
I’d stake upon his word my very life,
And so would this my good and noble wife.
“I never go to hear these parsons preach,
They nothing know, can therefore nothing teach.
My wife can tell me more of truth and God,
Than all the doctors in their grand synod.”
I interviewed an aged lady there-
The doctor’s guest, moreover, his belle-mere.
In youthful days, Miss Whitmer was her name,
And changed for Cowdery, of historic fame.
Nobility was stamped upon her face,
Like royal signet of her father’s race;
And David’s lineaments were plainly there,
But moulded, it would seem, with greater care.
She spoke of thrilling scenes of early life,
When she and Oliver were man and wife.
But he has passed the dark and mystic river,
By order of the Author and the Giver.
“I know,” she said, “this work will never fail,
Though all the nations may its friends assail.
‘Tis come, as I have heard the Prophets say,
To stand forever, though heavens pass away.”
Such is the substance of an interview
That tends to show this mighty work is true;
And being true, ’tis folly to oppose
The unseen power by which the system grows.
Some States have spent upon it rage and fury,
Despoiled its people without judge or jury;
And forced them in the mountain vales to hide,
And trust in Him who doth His people guide.
‘Twas not the province of poor, erring man,
To formulate this great and glorious plan,
Nor is it in the power of man to stay
Its onward progress, or block up its way.