Polygamy Poetry

October 14, 2008 | 21 comments
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Polygamy was a topic for persuasive prose, not poetry in nineteenth century Utah. Perhaps you can speculate on why after reading the following. Written by Mary Elizabeth Woolley Chamberlain when she was in her late teens or early twenties (during the late 1880s/early 1890s), the poem was obviously meant to be a rousing anthem. (Can anyone think of a matching tune?)

For what it’s worth, “Mame” had a rather difficult time taking her own advice when Thomas Chamberlain proposed she be his sixth wife. Her telling of the courtship is altogether amusing, something I don’t think I’ve ever said about polygamous romance before. Without further ado (and for your reading pleasure):

Have Courage My Girls to Say Yes

The dark clouds of hatred are gathering,
They menace the saints with distress,
The nation in pride is forbidding
The saints to obey God’s behest.
Will the daughters of Zion be fearing
To choose for the right and for God?
With fines and imprisonment threatening
Will they hold fast the “Iron Rod”?

Chorus:
Have courage, my girls, to say yes,
Have courage, my girls, to say yes,
If an Elder that’s true, should come wooing to you,
Have courage, my girls, to say yes.

The nations of earth are corrupting
The fountain of life’s flowing stream,
Iniquity rank and corroding
Is festering, yet their lives with it team,
God has commanded his people
To obey laws celestial and true
Will the daughters of Zion be faithful
And the trials of life bravely view?

(Chorus)

Better marry a man who’d be constant
Though wives he may have more than you,
If he is faithful to God and his covenants
Be onward he’ll be faithful to you.
Through of Babylon’s proud wealth he can boast not,
Don’t fear if his heart’s only true,
The riches of earth can compare not
With affection eternal for you.

(Chorus)

21 Responses to Polygamy Poetry

  1. Neal Davis on October 14, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    I smell a special musical number next Sunday…

  2. Edje on October 14, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    I’d say this is a redo of Ho­ra­tio R. Palm­er’s 1887 hymn “Have Courage to Say No!” (here, with MIDI).

    President Monson did the Yes/No substitution in 1955 (recounted by President Monson in 1986). When he retold the story in 2007 he said the song was about the Word of Wisdom, which would seem to point to Palmer’s text.

  3. Edje on October 14, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    As for amusing tales of polygamous courtship, it’s hard to best Artemus Ward (issues of factuality aside), though he said it was “confusing to the intellect” rather than amusing.

  4. Hunter on October 14, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Can anyone think of a matching tune? Why, yes: The meter for the verses of the poem fit nicely with the meter of “We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet.” (Go ahead, try it!)

    Now the challenge is to find something for that irregular-metered chorus. Working . . . (Maybe “If You’re Happy and You Know It”?)

  5. Bored in Vernal on October 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Wonder what “Weird Al” could do with it?

  6. Alison Moore Smith on October 14, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    “Be onward he’ll be faithful to you…” and her and her and her and…

  7. Kylie Turley on October 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Oh, thank you, Hunter #4. I am singing along. I think Neal #1 is right–this definitely has special musical potential.

  8. Kylie Turley on October 14, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Edje #2–How widespread was this Horatio Palmer number?

    Chamberlain’s polygamy poem does seem to be a copy, and certainly LDS women on the frontier were known to copy Eastern counterparts. It’s hard to dismiss the similarities, but I’m wondering how or even if a girl in Kanab, Utah, would have had access to Palmer’s song and lyrics.

  9. Banned Commenter on October 14, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    “How widespread was this Horatio Palmer number?”

    Extremely widespread. It appeared in school textbooks at least as early as 1875:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ICcBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA218&lpg=PA218&dq=%22have+courage%22+%22to+say+no%22&source=web&ots=th8wPIL2y9&sig=M6ABWhShxVSkwLuOgO2mlhedbzA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=9&ct=result

    (sorry, I don’t know how to make clickable links)

    and was published as sheet music at least by 1870:

    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mussm:1:./temp/~ammem_tDhu::

    and was well enough known in Mormon circles that by 1888 the Contributor could refer to it casually as if its readers would be completely familiar with it:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=CdYRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA263&lpg=PA263&dq=%22have+courage+my+boy+to+say+no%22&source=web&ots=96vfDAelkU&sig=g3uTOn-ZDpQHMCdttaWXaAcex8g&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result

    (sorry. I really do wish I could make elegant links)

  10. Edje on October 14, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I misidentified the author. The Library of Congress has an 1870 piece attributing the text to a Mrs. J.H. Gibson.

    The Millennial Star printed the text as a poem in 1873. One of the websites reports that the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers included “Have Courage My Boy” in their 1932 Pioneer Songs (though I think I’ve demonstrated the risk of trusting secondary websites).

  11. Banned Commenter on October 14, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Googling also shows it published in one of a series of school text books in 1875, and the Library of Congress “American Memory” section has two printings of sheet music printed by two different publishers in 1870. It seems to have been very well distributed with little reason to think Mormons in Utah would not know it too.

  12. Edje on October 14, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    The Utah Digital Newspapers web-archive has a version from the Park Record (Park City) published 1888 Jan 07, page 1. The scan is difficult; below is my first pass transcription.

    Have Courage, My Girl, to Say Yes.
    [The following bit of satire has been given us for [illegible]. It is a parody song and chorus and may be sung to the tune of Have Courage my Boy to say No.]

    You are starting my girl on a journey,
    Along the grand highway of life
    You soon will be watching for chances
    To get to be somebody’s wife
    Now if some frog of a bishop
    Should ask you his harem to bless
    Then hesitate not for more changes
    Have courage my girl to say yes

    Chorus:
    Have courage my girl to say yes
    Have courage my girl to say yes
    Have courage my girl, Have courage my girl
    Have courage my girl to say yes

    It is pleasant to live […]
    In a room that is cozy and blest
    And while you’re the pride of the harem
    Oh doesn’t he think you are sweet?
    Perhaps he shall…
    …
    If you be tempted to marry
    Have courage my girl to say yes. Chorus

    Maybe that’s the rosy …
    …
    … at once to accept!
    Be sure … to!
    He will give you a throne all …
    A crown and a scepter—I guess
    If you … of salvation
    Have courage my gal to say yes. Chorus

    Beware of Apostates and Gentiles
    They surely shall lead you astray
    The only … noted
    …keep … straight narrow way
    Be sure you get married at Logan
    Not … of the gospel—
    Have courage my girl to say yes. Chorus

  13. Jim Cobabe on October 14, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Makes me very glad I did not live during that time. (Not to say that everything looks rosy today.)

  14. Kylie Turley on October 14, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Edje, thanks for the fantastic research. I’m loving the irony. Two polygamy poems playing off Have Courage, My Boy–one done in complete earnest and the other as a satire. What are the odds?

    It must be too easy to mimic the original poem. Especially about marriage issues. Any takers for a modern SSM rendition??? Yikes!

  15. Jonathan Green on October 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Edje, nice work and thanks for the link. I’d emend your text as:

    Have Courage, My Girl, to Say Yes.
    [The following bit of satire has been given us for publication. It is a parody song and chorus and may be sung to the tune of Have Courage my Boy to say No.]

    You are starting my girl on a journey,
    Along the grand highway of life
    You soon will be watching for chances
    To get to be somebody’s wife
    Now if some frog of a bishop
    Should ask you his harem to bless
    Then hesitate not for more chances
    Have courage my girl to say yes

    Chorus:
    Have courage my girl to say yes
    Have courage my girl to say yes
    Have courage my girl, Have courage my girl
    Have courage my girl to say yes

    It is pleasant to live on the tithing
    In a room that is cozy and neat
    And while you’re the pride of the harem
    Oh doesn’t he think you are sweet?
    Perhaps [his old?] women may grumble
    And say that you lengthen distress
    If you be tempted to marry
    Have courage my girl to say yes. Chorus

    May be that some rosy apostle
    Will [offer salvation?] to you
    Tis … at once to accept him
    Be sure tis the right thing to do
    He will give you a throne and dominions
    A crown and a scepter—I guess
    If you’re in search of salvation
    Have courage my gal to say yes. Chorus

    Beware of Apostates and Gentiles
    They surely shall lead you astray
    ‘Tis only the faithful annointed
    Can keep [in?] the straight narrow way
    Be sure you get married at Logan
    Nor fear you have to confess
    Nor have broken the law of the gospel–
    Have courage my girl to say yes. Chorus

  16. Edje on October 14, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Jonathan: Thanks for the emendations. The poem is even more fun now that I can see what it says.

    Kylie: Yikes indeed. I will defer to more Miltonian Mormons to render “Have Courage, My Friends, to Say Yes!” and “Have Courage, My Friends, to Say No!” for us, noting only that “Satanic musician” rhymes with “Proposition” and “eternal fate” with “Eight.”

  17. maria on October 14, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Try the poem to the tune for “Master the Tempest is Raging”… it works perfectly. Even the chorus fits, with slight extentions of syllables.

  18. mmiles on October 15, 2008 at 12:47 am

    How ’bout the tune of Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words to Each other?

  19. Eric Boysen on October 15, 2008 at 8:30 am

    #14 third stanza … = best.

  20. Jonathan Green on October 15, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Eric, “best” is a viable suggestion for the first part of the obscure section, but there’s that clear final -y at the end that I still can’t find a solution for.

  21. Marianne on October 16, 2008 at 12:31 am

    I had “Master the Tempest is Raging” in my head too, but I think that “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go” works pretty well (plus, THEMATIC). The first line’s a bit tricky with the sixteenth notes, but if you slur it the rest of the song works great.

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