I’ve been at my parents house in Texas all week. They have a worn, original edition of Emmeline B. Wells’ Memories and Musings so I thought that it’d be nice to wrap up this run of Weekend Poetry (it will be back at some point — but next week I’m starting up Short Story Friday, again) with one of her poems. Wells was a key figure in the Home Literature movement, and her poetry reflects its neo-Romanticism and concern with showing Mormonism as capable of producing, if not literary genius, at the very least a certain refined, literary respectability. What I found interesting about perusing Memories and Musings is how much of the poetry is written for family and friends and special occassions. Not at all unusual for the times, of course, but it reflects a writer very much enmeshed in a community, responding to it, defending it, seeking to explain it — and especially doing so in dialogue with the Romantic poets and the tropes and figures and allusions they relied on.
I can’t say that any of her work immedietly impressed me with its skill and candor. It comes across as pretty old-fashioned and fairly provincial to my modern eyes. But I can also say that I didn’t spend the time with it that it deserves. I think that there’s much to be learned from her work. Here’s a taste of why I think that is so:
I see adown the shadows of long years,
The faint, dim outlines of a dreamy land,
And glit’ring thro’ the pearly mists of tears,
There seem reflected on that far-off strand,
The keenest hopes and joys my life has known,
And silent griefs which I had borne alone.
I dreamed not that the passion of an hour,
Could leave its ipress in the realm of space;
Or that an angel hand had skill and power,
The ideal picture of a love to trace,
And true to realistic thoughts and fears,
Preserve the record of the passing years.
We know not all the mysteries of earth,
Nor how with good and ill our lives are woven;
We cannot solve the secret of our birth,
Much less recall the sciences of heaven,
Nor what we saw and heard before we came;
We do not even know our former name. Continue reading “Weekend Poetry: “Somewhere” by Emmeline B. Wells”
So by now, most of you probably are aware of the origins of the name A Motley Vision. But the excerpt there is only part of Whitney’s description of the Grand Canyon, and because I wrote a senior thesis on it (and other instances of red rock poetry), and because I’m also (slowly) working on a Mormon-themed critical essay on it, I have the full description in my possession. Here it is. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Love and the Light: An Idyl of the Westland
by Orson F. Whitney
Chief among the sights compelling
Mingled awe and admiration,
Far along a great gulf opened,
Monster-jawed, as though devouring
In its wide voracious vastness,
In its Saturn-mouth, unsated
As the hungry deeps of Sheol,
Storm-stuck, down-hurled cities, temples,
In its fell maw crusht and crumbling.
Cleft and sundered Earth there yawning
O’er abysmal dark Perdition!
Fancied so the spelled beholder,
Halting on the marge precarious
Of that ghoul-like gulf appalling.
Savage scar on face of Nature,
Weird and terrible as Hades;
Gaping wound in God’s creation,
Awful, dread, beyond description,
Beggaring imagination. Continue reading “Weekend Poetry: excerpt from Orson F. Whitney’s “Love and the Light””
I turned to Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems for this edition of Weekend Poetry in hopes of finding a poem that both spoke to me and was available online. To my surprise, here’s what I ended up selecting:
At Mountain Meadows
for Juanita Brooks
(by R. A. Christmas, Dialogue 4.3, reprinted in both Harvest and A Believing People)
You’ll have to click through to the link above to read it — it was originally published in Dialogue. But here are two phrases that grabbed me from it:
“who cannot stay to sift for those / ungathered pieces of the dead” and “…and the Earth / burns to a glass in which we see / ourselves as we are seen”
I say to my surprise because I wasn’t intending to “go there.” The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a complex topic. And I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this poem as a) a work of aesthetics b) a work of Mormon literature c) a work of ideological attitude and d) a response to Mountain Meadows.
I’m curious about what others think. However, please not to keep things focused on culture and aesthetics. AMV is not the place to discuss history, politics, sociology, etc. Obviously each of those disciplines can inform how one responds to a work of art and especially one that in and of itself refers to all that messiness (it’s dedicated to Juanita Brooks fer crying out loud). But there are a hundred other places to get in to the socio-religio-poli-historical aspects of MMM.
This is the first poem I remember reading in The Ensign and liking. It also appears to have been part of the last set of poems for the last year of the Eliza R. Snow contest, which ran during the 1970s and ’80s and ended in 1992. I read this poem as part of a sacrament meeting talk a few years ago.
It’s not the best poem. It contains no amazing images or turns of phrases. It’s structure is simple and rather loose. It ends a bit tritely. And yet even as corny as that ending couplet is, I find it comforting in its patience and surety. And the poem served me well when I was struggling to write a talk on women and sorrow.
To Eve–with Empathy across the Years
By Shirley Adwena Harvey
Ensign, July 1992, 49
You laid the garment aside
And stood to rest stiff shoulders–
How pleased Abel would be
At touch of the soft, supple leather.
From the door you could see the fields,
Quiet in midday sun.
The harvest had been good
And the flocks were fat. Continue reading “Weekend Poetry: “To Eve–with Emapthy across the Years””