Literary OTGD #29: To President Brigham Young by Eliza R. Snow

July 13, 2014 | 4 comments
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Eliza R. SnowThere are at least two potential problems when there is a leadership transition—the transition plan or procedure isn’t always known ahead of time, and those involved don’t always follow the plan or procedures. Mormonism’s initial experience with transition didn’t go well—I suspect for both reasons—and the transitions elsewhere in the scriptures often seem unexpected also. For example, the transition from Elijah to Elisha described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #29 is unexpected by the Israelites, who search for Elijah for three days after Elisha succeeds him.

It is, of course, Mormonism’s difficult initial transition, following the death of Joseph Smith, that led to the following poem.

Mormonism’s best known poet, Eliza R. Snow joined Joseph Smith’s church before her brother Lorenzo did. She was later married to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and was the second General President of the Relief Society. She gathered some of her poetry into a two-volume work, Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political, which was published in 1856 and 1877. Ten of her poems are currently in the LDS hymnal, and several others once were in editions of the LDS hymnal, but have since been dropped.

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To President Brigham Young

by Eliza R. Snow

An important station is truly thine,
And the weight of thy calling can none define;
Being call’d of the Lord o’er the Twelve to preside,
And with them over all of the world beside.

 

Like Elisha of old, when Elijah fled
In a chariot of fire, thou has lost thy head;
Lost thy head? O no! thou are left to prove
To the Gods, thy integrity, faith, and love.

 

Thou hast gain’d, like Elisha, a rich behest,
For the mantle of Joseph seems to rest
Upon thee, while the spirit and pow’r divine,
That inspir’d his heart, is inspiring thine.

 

The great work which he laid the foundation to
Is unfinished, and resting on thee to do—
With thy brethren, the Twelve, thou wilt bear it forth
To the distant nations of the earth.

 

Kings, princes, and nobles will honor thee,
And thy name will be great on the isles of the sea—
The pure light of intelligence thou wilt spread
Will exalt the living and save the dead.

 

The great spirit of truth, will direct thy ways;
Generations to come, will repeat thy praise—
When thy work is completed on earth, thou’lt stand
In thy station appointed at God’s right hand.

The Prophet, v1 n47, 12 February 1845, p. 4

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Snow’s poem shows the kind of reaction desired after a transition. In stating that Brigham Young is the new leader, Snow is explicit, comparing Brigham Young to Elisha. If anything, Snow demonstrates the pressure on Brigham Young to meet the expectations Mormons had from knowing Joseph Smith. She does this not to try to tell Brigham Young how to make this transition, but perhaps to help Church members realize that this is a transition, and that Brigham Young is the person chosen to succeed Joseph Smith.

Unfortunately, there were many Mormons at the time who didn’t agree.

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4 Responses to Literary OTGD #29: To President Brigham Young by Eliza R. Snow

  1. Ivan on July 14, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Technically, Brigham asserted that the twelve had the authority to run the church in Joseph’s absence. He did not claim to be Joseph’s successor. Of course, as president of the Twelve he knew he would be top dog. But he did not become president of the church, as best I recall, until Dec. 1847, three years after Joseph’s death and long after he had established his leadership ability.

  2. Kent Larsen on July 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, I know, Ivan. Perhaps you should clarify that for Sister Eliza…

  3. Ivan Wolfe on July 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I don’t comment much at the blogs anymore, but I’ve been told there’s another “Ivan” making comments on these blogs. Just want to clarify that that “Ivan” is not “Ivan Wolfe” or “Ivan W.”

    So Kent, that Ivan is not me, in case it influenced your reaction.

  4. Ivan Wolfe on July 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    And to the other “Ivan” making comments – use an additional last initial or some other identifier, to avoid confusion, please. I don’t like getting messages on facebook asking me why I said stuff I didn’t say.

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