Literary OTGD #15: Exodus by John Lyon

April 25, 2014 | no comments
By
John Lyon

John Lyon

As the Mormon pioneers began their westward trek, they already saw themselves on an exodus similar to that of ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the promised land. And they faced some of the same difficulties that Israel faced—such as those outlined in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 15: complaints, backbiting, uncertain knowledge of the land they were going to, and even a promised land populated by another people.

The poem below, written near the beginning of the Mormon trek, urges the Saints in England to promptly take part in the trek, despite its dangers and the misgivings of many Church members.

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 became 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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Exodus

by John Lyon

Ye sons of Israel arise,
Nor round your city dally.
An echoing voice prophetic cries,
“Go seek some lonely valley.”
In ambuscade the foemen lie,
Watching you with a tiger’s eye.
Up and away, to your mountain home,
Where wild beasts prowl, and red men roam,
There round your standard rally.

 

Oh! linger not, though loved ones plead,
And fondly wish you tarry,
Proscrib’d, yet bless’d; why should you dread
The blood-stain’d emissary?
Your Temple’s spire still points to heav’n,
Whence God reviews the outcast driven;
And angels guard the hallow’d ground,
Till once with glorious triumph crown’d,
You, Zion back shall carry,

 

Shall scornful Gentiles’, ruthless ire,
The work of God fulfilling—
E’er quench the rapturous desire,
That’s in your bosoms thrilling.
Be still, and know the voice of God—
The coming bliss, the fearful rod;
There hide ye, till the scourging blast
“Of judgment set, and thrones o’ercast,”
Then wait for God’s revealing.

 

Go, where ne’er a white man trod:
Unveil each Indian nation,
Unfold the stick of Ephraim’s God,
The cov’nant of salvation.
Then the despised, and trodden down,
Shall rise to glory and renown,
And nations in earth’s midst shall flow
To Zion, and a kingdom grow,
To swell the restoration.
Kilmarnock, February 5th, 1846.

Millennial Star, 1 March 1846, p. 80

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Lyon’s words work as a kind of antidote to the problems mentioned in the lesson. Where the lesson discusses the complaints of Miriam and Aaron, Lyon urges readers to follow their leaders to the West. But despite the complaints that many ordinary Mormon pioneers must have had, Lyon correctly notes that they,

… the despised, and trodden down,
Shall rise to glory and renown,
And nations in earth’s midst shall flow
To Zion, and a kingdom grow,
To swell the restoration.

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