Literary DCGD #5: A Scene in Virginia

January 27, 2013 | 2 comments
By
Joseph L Townsend

Joseph L Townsend

The spirit of revelation described in D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #5 isn’t always credited with all that it deserves. During our lives, I think, we often receive inspiration that we don’t attribute to anything but our own decisions, while that inspiration makes subtle changes, pushing us towards the better. Other times personal revelation is very clear, appearing as the kind of direct communication whose source is all but undeniable.

The following poem is an example of when and how personal revelation can appear, along with a meditation on nature and how it should turn our vision o the truth.

Its author, Joseph Townsend, was a prominent Utah Mormon of the late 19th century. His poems appeared frequently in LDS periodicals like the contributor, and about 10 of his hymns remain in our hymnal today. Born in Pennsylvania in 1872, Townsend came to Salt Lake City, Utah to improve is health and discovered Mormonism there as well. He served an LDS mission to the Southern States, owned and ran a drugstore in Payson, Utah for 15 years and then taught at Brigham Young Academy (the high-school predecessor of BYU) for a couple of years before teaching at Salt Lake City High School. I assume that this poem was inspried by events during his mission.

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A Scene in Virginia

by Joseph L. Townsend

Here mountain ridges side by side extend,
Far as the eye in distance can discern,
While lost in hazy blue, the outlines blend,
And fade from sight where skies to earth return.
Dark robed in sombre growth of forests green,
The mountain sides, with ever changing hue,
Throw deep their shadows o’er the vales between,
And rise in grandeur far in heavens’ blue.
With knobby ridges where the river swells
From streamlets ever purling as they run,
The broken valleys, mingling hills and dells,
Lie dark in shade or brightened in the sun.
With pastures velvet green and woodland hills
Rock-ribbed and craggy reaching o’er the vales,
The farms adjoin, and all the valley fills
With checkered bounds marked by the zigzag rails.
The golden grain fields of oats and wheat
Is ready for the reapers busy throng,
The meadows, full of grasses blooming sweet,
Await the mower and his cheerful song.
What homes could be within a scene like this,
Were truth upheld and culture free to all!
Alas! the selfish hearts to love remiss
Uphold the laws that must their minds enthrall.
Where nature, kind to all, her wealth bestows
In forests, field, and ever flowing springs,
The customs of society impose
The poverty of thought tradition brings.
When landscapes fill with beauty all the scene
In depths of leafy shade and sunlit fields,
Uncultured man sees only country green,
And beauty only where it money yields.
The grasping rich forever grasp for more,
The poor are filled with sullen discontent,
And class distinction keeps both rich and poor
Away from culture by their own consent.
All works united interesting require,
All joys refinements of the soul create,
All pleasures art and nature may inspire,
Are lost within the minds uncultured state.
The sordid thoughts of temporal affairs,
The jar and wrangle of a daily strife,
Enslave the mind beneath the many cares
Of selfish labors, and a foolish life.
And vales where labor skilled in landscape art
Could make an Eden of the prosy farms,
Show everywhere the minds unskillful part,
Destroying even natures’ lavished charms.
O! land of mountains, forests, fields and streams,
When will thy people from their errors turn?
When will thy customs yield to light that beams
In knowledge free to all that will to learn?
Can mind from darkness of traditions’ lore
Evolving truth from error turn its range
In thought and action that may laws restore
Of universal and progressive change?
Alas! to-morrow as to-day must be,
Except the powers of heaven wield their might,
In revolutions that externally
Establish higher thoughts of life and right.
Till man, inspired with higher, nobler thought,
The selfish passions of inherent sin
Has conquered in the aspirations taught
By revelation to the soul within.
While mind, expanding in the laws of God,
To something higher than the common state
And pathways which for ages it has trod,
Aspires to be the noble, truly great.
Inviting all to join a higher cause
And in progressive thought have liberty,
By heaven sent, we teach the higher laws,
And daily labor all the land to free.
And slowly, surely, truth the land inspires
To turn from customs ever seeking pelf,
To nobler aspirations and desires
In Gods’ refinement of immortal self.

The Contributor 4 (1882-1883)

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Today we might see an environmental emphasis in what Townsend says, especially his suggestion that too often man sees nature not what it is, but what financial benefit it can provide:

When landscapes fill with beauty all the scene
In depths of leafy shade and sunlit fields,
Uncultured man sees only country green,
And beauty only where it money yields.

But Townsend goes on to suggest that only personal revelation can eventually convince some to take a different view:

Alas! to-morrow as to-day must be,
Except the powers of heaven wield their might,
In revolutions that externally
Establish higher thoughts of life and right.
Till man, inspired with higher, nobler thought,
The selfish passions of inherent sin
Has conquered in the aspirations taught
By revelation to the soul within.

This is, I think, the role that personal inspiration plays. Scripture and general revelation to the prophet can’t cover all the specifics of our lives, and, in the end, it is personal revelation that has the better chance of changing our minds and changing us.

 

2 Responses to Literary DCGD #5: A Scene in Virginia

  1. James Olsen on January 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    A lot of food for thought here. I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to me that Townsend subtly contrasts with much of the 19th century rhetoric concerning the errors of prejudice that we cling to. Rather than the typical enlightenment rhetoric and ethic of our natural, rational selves that will inevitably shine forth in truth if we can only loose ourselves from the shackles of tradition, Townsend seems to say that whatever “enlightened” stances we take up, it is revelation that is in fact the liberating element that leads to true enlightenment – a Mormon twist on a familiar theme.

  2. Kent Larsen on January 27, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    James, I’m not sure I see it, but perhaps I don’t have enough depth in typical enlightenment rhetoric.