Literary BMGD #33: The Epitaph

August 13, 2012 | 3 comments
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The corruption and internal strife in the initial chapters of Helaman are marked by the rise of secret combinations among the Nephites and Gadianton’s rule over the band eventually known as Gadianton’s Robbers. While I think our society today is far from the level of corruption seen then, we certainly deal with similar corruption to a smaller degree. And societies we do know today (perhaps Somalia and Zimbabwe and probably others also) seem as corrupt or worse than what the Nephite’s had to deal with. It is hard to imagine how anyone survives such regimes without also becoming corrupt.

The 19th century Mormon poet Richard Alldridge expressed a modern day version of the feelings that the righteous in the early chapters of Helaman must have felt. Alldridge was born in England in 1815 and joined the Church in the first few years following the arrival of Mormon missionaries in England. Five of his hymns appeared in the 1840 Manchester Hymnal, and two of those hymns survive in today’s hymnal, We’ll Sing All Hail To Jesus’ Name and Lord Accept Our True Devotion. He immigrated to Utah in 1861 and died in Cedar City, Utah in 1896.

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The Epitaph

by Richard Alldridge

This world has gold and influence,
With votaries at her shrine,
Who bow down at the throne of might,
However stained with crime.
They’ll grasp the blood-stained hand, if rich,
As of a friend and brother,
And spurn the man whom truth receives,
Whose noble heart and bosom heaves
In friendship for another.

 

It is not gold nor influence
Reveal man’s native worth,
Nor high-flown claims of pedigree
To royal rank or birth;
But chastity, adorned with love,
Faith, hope and charity,
Will give to him a nobler name,
And wreathe his brow with brighter fame.
Through all eternity.

 

All monuments and tabulars
Are things of minor worth;
All glittering ores and sparkling gems
Arc fragments of the earth;
And like all things of earthly note,
Will pass into decay;
But virtue, truth and honesty
Are attributes that never die,
Or ever fade away.

 

So with the noble-hearted soul,
Who feels too proud to live
On others’ toil, or ask a boon
He would not freely give.
However lowly his estate,
A helping hand I’d lend,
And ask no pomp or pageant might;
If he’d but battle for the right,
I’d hail him as a friend.

 

Give me a body hale and strong,
A spirit meek in pride;
A bosom friend to share my lot,
In whom I can confide.
I’d ask no lordling for his gold,
Or wealth to render aid;
But Heaven to bless me as I try
To toil through life, and so enjoy
The wealth these hands have made.

 

The only monument I wish
To Crown this life’s retreat,
Is a plain inscription of my name,
Placed at my head or feet.
This Epitaph I fain would have
When life hath closed her span;
That those who view me as I lay,
In truth may be constrained to say;
“There lies an honest man.”

The Contributor, August 1881, p. 345.

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While Alldridge’s sentiments might also be worthy of Ayn Rand, the contrast he paints between the righteous and those caught up in the values of the world, who are “stained with crime” and who “grasp the blood-stained hand, if rich” is what matches best the problems exemplified in these early chapters of Helaman. In the face of that corruption, Alldridge’s sentiments are admirable, and likely very difficult.

 

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3 Responses to Literary BMGD #33: The Epitaph

  1. themormonbrit on August 15, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Having family members in Zimbabwe who have suffered at the hands of Mugabe’s regime, I resonate with the descriptions of horrific corruption found both in this poem and in Helaman. I am sure it must be difficult to live honest, godly lives in a society marred by corruption and political oppression.

  2. Kent Larsen on August 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Indeed. At some point corruption is contagious, becoming part of the culture — which makes it horribly difficult to fight against or even avoid participating in.

  3. Philia Fresnan on February 12, 2013 at 8:45 am

    That’s a pretty long epitaph for a gravestone. The 19th century is really one of the best times where people are more imaginative with words. Where every word can really be heart felt, especially in hard times.

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