Earlier this month I taught lesson 33 from the Gospel Doctrine manual, which covered the succession issues after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith as well as the eagerness of the Saints to receive their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple before leaving for the West.
I came prepared to read from Clinton F. Larson’s lyric play/dramatic poem The Mantle of the Prophet, which is about the same period in church history as the lesson. I didn’t know for sure if I was going to get to it, both because of time and because I wasn’t sure how it would be received. In the end I went for it.
I quoted from a conversation between Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young at the funeral bier for Joseph and Hyrum:
YOUNG: The Twelve remain.
RIGDON: What of the Twelve? We have Joseph.
YOUNG: They lead. The Church cannot remain here among
its enemies. It will wither as the vine in the land of
RIGDON: The voices come round me again.
Here he lies, waiting for his peace
When we have found ours.
His enemies will know his quiet spirit
That like a summer cloud gleams white
Over the fields of Zion. This is the soft land
where maize and the grain fill our arms.
If I’m reading this correctly, what Rigdon is saying is that Joseph was the prophet and that the Saints should simply strive to maintain his legacy in the land that tried (and failed) to establish as Zion.
Here is the response from Brother Brigham:
YOUNG: We are as straws together in a swirl of wind;
We pass over the land until the wind puts us down.
Joseph, the Twelve remain, and the ache
Of your vision is with us and must be fulfilled.
I have stumbled in your presence, wondering
How to serve you and whom you served.
My hard hands have taken yours inquiring
How can I be of use? I have looked into your eyes
And seen the far horizons of the West,
The wagons and the prairie white and golden
Under a summer day. I have seen the cleavage
Of land from the mountains. In the depths
Of my heart, I wander there, where the gulls
Ride above a silver sea and the sky
Like a veil hangs over a great valley.
How can I know where this may be,
Except as I remember you in my stride
That brings me west? I have come from the East
To find you, and I have found you only here,
As you are carried in death, so I must find you
Beyond the river, along the trail
To Laramie, or if not there, westward still
Where the people may gather, where
The mountains decline with the sun
I have seen the inland sea in the silence
Of your eyes. Where can you have gone but there?
(BYU Studies, Vol 2.2, 205-206)
I don’t know what my class members thought of this. I read this at the end and then bore my testimony, and then we closed with prayer so there wasn’t really chance for feedback. But I found it quite powerful — especially those last two lines.