Literary Lorenzo Snow #9: Memento

May 5, 2013 | one comment
By
John Lyon

John Lyon

The sacred and eternal nature of families is regularly taught and believed among Mormons today. But it wasn’t seen as quite as obvious to Church members in the middle of the 19th century. The teaching that our family relationships extend past this life and are modeled on the family relationship we had before this life developed throughout the life of Joseph Smith, culminating  with the King Follett discourse (given just before his death) and with the temple ordinances. The teachings of Lorenzo Snow on this subject (seen in the Lorenzo Snow manual chapter 9) thus represent a very developed understanding of how these relationships fit in the plan of salvation.

For many earlier Church members, however, it seems to me that these teachings were mostly comfort on the loss of loved ones, especially children. And it is in comforting those who have lost children that the eternal nature of families can be seen. An example is the poem selected for this lesson.

Its author, John Lyon, was probably the second best known Mormon poet (at least among those known for poetry) behind Eliza R. Snow. His poetry is often lighter and more approachable, covering subjects like currency and the death of a canary. Born in 1803, Lyon was largely self-taught, only learning to read at the age of 25. But he nevertheless soon becoming an active literary participant, working for seven different newspapers in his native Scotland and assisting in the production of several anthologies of the work of other poets. He joined the LDS Church in 1844 and published his first LDS poem, “Man,” in the Millennial Star in 1845. By 1849, British Mission President Orson Spencer lauded his work as “genius” and as providing “unmistakable melody and power.” Lyon served an LDS mission in England, published a volume of poems, The Harp of Zion, and then immigrated to Utah, where he was made a patriarch in 1872. His Utah poems were published posthumously in the volume Songs of a Pioneer (1923).

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Memento

By John Lyon

Lines of Consolation, addressed to Brother and Sister Watson, in consequence of the bereavement of their son John Kerr, who died at Glasgow on the 15th of March, 1845, aged three years and five months. Also, of their second son William, who died on the 31st March, 1846, aged one year and two months.

My dearest friends, for you I’ve culled a wreath from mem’ry’s bower,
Perfumed with Rue, Forget-me-not, and Eden’s lonely flower;
That while you travel life’s rough road, this posey ever green,
May tell of flowers that never fade beyond this fleeting scene.

 

But oh! ’tis sad to touch the lyre, when bent too tight with woe,
For then the chords of feeling spring where griefs dull numbers flow;
Yet, sadder far, when sick’ning pain, no words nor tears impart
One soothing feeling o’er the mind, to ease the aching heart.

 

So, now my friends, the task be mine to touch a thrilling strain,
And cheer you with revealings of Messiahs glorious reign!
Old hoary Time, with outspread wings, cross bones, and sand glass run,
Are emblems of mortality the fearful world would shun;

 

But more divinely blest are you, with Truth’s inspiring lay.
To know your heavenly origin! to claim your kindred clay!
See! yonder flowery garden sown, fit semblance of the tomb,
No passing stranger there can tell what seeds may spring and bloom.

 

But they to whom the charge is given, to watch our sleeping dust,
“Will they not know the sacred spot that holds their treasured trust?
Oh, happy day I when we shall greet the loved ones we revere,
Who only lived, to breath In life, to gain a soul-made sphere.

 

Yes, soon that blessed day will come, the brightest and the best,
When each fond mother’s Infant child will rise and call her blest,
And round the peaceful home will group their loved ones, parted long.
To tell how joyous they have been, ‘rapt In seraphio song!

 

Then Time and Death, So fraught with pain, remembered will endear
The sweets of Zion’s paradise, without distracting fear;
Sealed by the Priesthood’s saving power, our offspring still shall rise,
To gain perfection’s godlike height! the Saints immortal prize.

 

Then dry the burning tear of grief, exult with heartfelt joy!
To know that Death nor Hell can hurt, nor yet their peace destroy;
And while affection’s tendrils twine around the absent fair,
Look up to Heaven, Run To Obtain, you’ll find your treasure there.
Kilmarnock.
Lyon.

Millennial Star, v10 n18,
15 September 1848, p. 287-288

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It seems to me that the difficulty we have with eternal family relationships lies simply in our inability to understand and completely trust the idea of eternity. Lyon caught something of the problem when he said:

Old hoary Time, with outspread wings, cross bones, and sand glass run,
Are emblems of mortality the fearful world would shun;

Lyon’s poem claims that if we could simply understand that we are eternal beings, our family relationships would be built for eternity and a little thing like death would not be so troubling:

Then dry the burning tear of grief, exult with heartfelt joy!
To know that Death nor Hell can hurt, nor yet their peace destroy;
And while affection’s tendrils twine around the absent fair,
Look up to Heaven, Run To Obtain, you’ll find your treasure there.

I’m not sure that much can be said beyond that.

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One Response to Literary Lorenzo Snow #9: Memento

  1. Yolanda Breidenbaugh on May 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem.

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