If poetry is out of fashion to a great degree, then epic poetry is almost prehistoric. Most people, if they have any idea of what epic poetry is, think of the Homerian and Vergilian ouverve — The Odyssey, the Iliad and the Aneid. With a little thought, they might also come up with some of the midieval and early modern epics like the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, and, my favorite, The Lusiad. Of Wikipedia’s list of poetic epics, the only post 1700 work in English I recognized was Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.
Given the perception of epic poetry as works written many hundreds or even thousands of years ago, I’m sure most Mormons are ignorant of Mormon epic poetry.
So for National Poetry Month, I looked at what has been written, and found 7 works of Mormon epic poetry.
An epic is “a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.” (see Epic Poetry) I think it also needs to be distinguished slightly from more recent forms, such as works made up of multiple poems on a common theme. The difference here is analagous to the difference between novels and short story collections with a common theme and narrative (think The Martian Chronicles). In Mormon literature, this makes Orson F. Whitney’s Elias, an Epic of the Ages, an epic poem, but excludes S. Dilworth Young’s The Long Road: From Vermont to Carthage.
I have not read and don’t have copies of all these works, so I won’t try to make any kind of comparison or evaluation. But I do think that having this list around may be useful to those interested in Mormon literature, and especially to those interested in Mormon poetry.
Mormon Epic Poetry
- Collings, Michael R. The Nephiad: An Epic Poem in Twelve Books. 1996.
- Cracroft, R. Paul. A Certain Testimony: A Mormon Epic in Twelve Books. 1979.
- Dunn, Charles W. The Master’s Other Sheep: An Epic of Ancient America. 1929.
- King, Hannah Tapfield. An Epic Poem: A synopsis of the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the birth of the prophet Joseph Smith to the arrival on the spot which the prophet Brigham Young pronounced to be the site of the future Salt Lake City. 1884.
- Osmond, Alfred. The Exiles: A True and Tragic Story of Heroic Struggles and Masterful Achievements. 1926.
- Whitney, Orson F. Elias: An Epic of the Ages. 1904.
- Wilkins, Olive McFate. From Cumorah’s Lonely Hill: An Epic of the Book of Mormon. 1950.
A couple of additional works that came up in my searches bear mentioning. While the titles and other information about these works make it sound like they could be epic poetry, both of these works are satires, and the first, at least, is an anti-Mormon work:
- The Mormoniad. 1858.
- Taylor, Alva A. Plates of Brass, 1917.
I should also note that only 5 of the 7 works of epic poetry can be found in the Mormon Literature and Creative Arts database, and one of those works isn’t classified as epic poetry. I’ve been trying for at least 3 years to get works added to the database — does anyone know how to make that happen?