I’m launching a new series of posts with poetry to go with the 2021 Come Follow Me lessons for the Doctrine and Covenants
A few years ago, a Texas lawyer named Keith Jaasma gained some notoriety for his poetry. Mr. Jaasma would take U.S. Supreme Court opinions and boil them down to haiku compositions that summed up the gist of the holding. For example, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, he summarized the opinion in haiku form as follows: Schools for black and whiteSeparate is not equalDesegregation I was charmed by Mr. Jaasma’s trick, and for a couple years now, I’ve been using it to help me break down things that are difficult to understand. The process of taking something complex and trying to pin down its core ideas in a 5-7-5 format can be a worthwhile challenge. Seventeen syllables are not nearly enough to capture all the nuances of a complex idea, and as you wrestle with that constricting form, you can’t help but analyze every part of whatever it is that you’re trying to “haikuify.” You think just as much about the parts that you are leaving out of the poem as the parts that you manage to fit in. And for the parts that you decide absolutely must fit into the poem, you find yourself grappling with different ways to express those parts. You search for shorter words that will substitute for the longer, fancier ones that you find in the text you are working with. You have to decide whether each line of the…
Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is one of the most difficult to understand episodes in the Bible, and it is also a regular subject of LDS lessons, such as Lesson 9 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. Despite its troubling nature, this event is seen as a clear type of Christ’s sacrifice, and it is often portrayed as an ideal of the righteous sacrifice we should ourselves be willing to make. Both of these views of Abraham’s dilemna appear in LDS poetry, and the latter view—that we too are expected to sacrifice for sake of the gospel—is expressed in the following extract from a poem by Eliza R. Snow:
I love the first lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual. It seems like Snow’s love of learning is second to none among latter-day Prophets. And his statements about learning are wonderful: “Though we may now neglect to improve our time, to brighten up our intellectual faculties, we shall be obliged to improve them sometime. We have got so much ground to walk over, and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.”
The initial lesson in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History course of study points out that the revelations found in the text are meant for our time and cover our dispensation, while the history presented is the history of our people, as opposed to those who lived aeons ago. This course should, therefore, be relevant to us today in a way that the other Gospel Doctrine courses can’t hope to accomplish. The poem below discusses not only a few of the major events that opened our dispensation, but also follows the prediction often made; that our dispensation has a great destiny leading to the coming of our Lord.
For the past year each Monday afternoon my “Literary BMGD” posts have appeared each Monday — perhaps confusing some readers who have wondered exactly what these posts were all about. And those who clicked on them to read what they had may have been surprised to find that they were… poetry. What exactly is BMGD and why poetry? If I am going to continue these posts, I should probably explain:
Poetry by Joseph Smith? That is certainly not what Joseph Smith is known for, nor is it often claimed that he was a poet in all the writing and studies made about him. [Orson F. Whitney is the exception that comes to mind.] But the following poem, when published in 1843, carried his byline when it was published. As a paraphrase of D&C 76, this poem fits well, I think with the Gospel Doctrine Book of Mormon lesson #41. As Christ teaches to the Nephites in this lesson (3 Nephi 22-26) he focuses on making sure that their scriptural cannon is complete, adding the neglected prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite and the to them unknown teachings of Malachi. And then he expounds all things unto them. Doesn’t section 76 have that kind of “exposition of all things” feel to it?
During the crucifixion of Christ as portrayed in 3rd Nephi, the devastation seems like it is beyond our understanding. Certainly the descriptions portray devastation on a level that no one today has experienced. The very earth reacts to the death of the Savior, and continues that reaction, apparently until his resurrection on the third day. May we never experience anything like that. But the portrayal raises an interesting theological issue, one that Parley P. Pratt picked up on in his earliest Mormon poetry.
With the beginning of what we Mormons can call the fifth gospel, the Book of Mormon begins the story of Christ’s birth, life, death and visit to the Americas, all from the perspective of the people’s there. And the initial story in 3rd Nephi is quite different from those in the New Testament. Here we see signs and wonders also, but they are more widely known and come under a threat of violence. The faith of the believers in 3rd Nephi was tried publicly and directly, while the faith of the few who knew anything about the import of the events in Bethlehem (principally Joseph and Mary) was tried mainly in private, in embarrassment or humiliation.