Literary OTGD #30: Strength by Mabel Jones

July 20, 2014 | one comment
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What benefit do we get from the temple? Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #30 covers two renewals of the temple in ancient Israel; that of Hezekaih and that of his great grandson, Josiah. It also gives the example of Hezekiah’s fending off the Assyrians with the help of the angel of the Lord following his cleansing of the temple. This apparently comes because of his righteousness. Could it be the indirect result of cleansing the temple? Does the temple lend us strength?

The following sonnet sees strength in the temple, comparing its outward appearance with the inward strength it gives us:

Its author, Mabel Jones Gabbott, was born in Malad, Idaho and was educated at the University of Idaho and at the University of Utah. While serving a mission in the Northwestern States, she met Don Gabbott, who she would marry in 1941, and was encouraged by her mission president, Preston Nibley, to become an author. She worked on the staff of the Children’s Friend and the Improvement Era magazines while she wrote poetry and stories that were published in the magazines. Mabel also was a member of the YWMIA General Board and the General Music Committee of the Church, serving as chairman of the Hymnbook Text Committee and contributing much to the initial work on the 1985 hymnal. She is the author of the lyrics of 4 hymns in the current hymnal, including In Humility, Our Savior, and several others in the Children’s Songbook.

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Strength

by Mabel Jones Gabbott

I love the temple on a stormy day;
It stands so tall and firm, so soundly made
It matches graying skies with deeper gray,
And meets the tempest boldly, unafraid.
The wind and rain beat at its walls as though
A thousand furies charged with wrath uncurbed
Would force an entrance with each pelting blow.
The temple stands serene and unperturbed.
I would that I might build a stronghold thus,
That when the winds of life should blow my way
I’d meet them without fear or doubt or fuss
But wisely, sanely, calmly live each day;
And stand aloof when trouble or despair
Would storm my faith and lay my ideals bare.

Improvement Era, v44 n10
October 1941
[H.T. Keepapitchinin]

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I think it is possible to argue that the sonnet itself is a strong form of poetry. Its long lines and regular rhyme scheme giving a solid feel, that resists mispronunciations and errors. Sonnets also have a long, strong history, that pervades much of literary history and provides sonnets with an emotional strength—at least among those who read a lot of poetry.

But the message of Gabbott’s poem is itself a message about strength, regardless of the poems’ form. Her contrast of the grey of the Salt Lake Temple (likely the building she was writing about) with the grey of the skies while the wind and the rain beat impotently against its walls is wonderful. The “serene and unpreturbed” temple gives the feeling that the raindrops are almost not worth worrying about.

This does seem like what we would want — the “stronghold thus” that Gabbott wants to build, where she “wisely, sanely, calmly lives each day” and “stands aloof when trouble or despair.” It is what we need to do—build such a mental stronghold.

Today, however, we might be wise to recognize that sorms can “my faith and lay my ideals bare.” The rain on stone imagery in the poem remind me of a Portuguese proverb I learned on my mission:

Agua mole em pedra dura
Tanta bata até que fura

which might be roughly translated as:

Soft water on hard rock
Beats so long it makes a hole

Its true that when water beats against the same place for long enough it will wear the rock away and create a hole. And often it happens that the storms of life beat against us so long that what was once solid is no longer so. Creating our strongholds requires, I think, more than simply putting strong stones in the right place. It also requires good design, that is both flexible and helps us work around the attacks of the storms of life.

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One Response to Literary OTGD #30: Strength by Mabel Jones

  1. James Olsen on July 20, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Yes, it’s certainly that last line that caught my attention. It’s amazing how differently “trials” appear to us before and during their onslaught. Prior to them, in times of refuge and calm, I feel naively confident in my (and my ideals’) ability to withstand the storms. Trials, however, are only genuinely trials, when those ideals, those principles, those ways of making sense of things, don’t really hold up. I think it is at those times that all we have left are covenants. Either we continue as we’ve promised, or we do not. The storms of life make bare what there is once all the surface stone is worn away: our agency. And the temple very much reinforces this.

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