September 15, 2010

Free audiobook of Talmage's "Jesus the Christ"

James E. Talmage's classic book Jesus the Christ is available as a free mp3 download (click here) from the Church's new website,

Since Elder Talmage made substantial use of then-current Protestant scholarship on Jesus Christ, the book is pretty dated from an academic view. An interesting companion to the book is Malcolm R. Thorp's article, "James E. Talmage and the Tradition of Victorian Lives of Jesus," Sunstone 12 (January, 1988), pp. 8-13. I think the book is still well-worth reading (or hearing!). It's pretty cool that the Church is providing it as a free audio book.

September 14, 2010

Review: Derr, Davidson, "Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry"

Title:  Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry
Editors: Jill Mulvay Derr, Karen Lynn Davidson
Publisher: Brigham Young University Press/University of Utah Press
Genre: Poetry
Year: 2009
Pages: 1333
ISBN13: 9780842527378
Binding: Hardcover
Price: 44.95

“Mr. Editor,—It is not my wish to appear in print” was, ironically, the first sentence of Eliza R. Snow’s to appear in print. Under the pseudonym “Angerona,” Snow’s “Pity &c” was published in the Western Courier in August 1825. Despite her self-effacing self-introduction, Snow would go on to publish nearly four hundred poems over the next six decades in addition to writing more than one hundred additional unpublished poems (xiv, 5). “No collection of Eliza R. Snow’s poetry can hope to define her poetic canon once and for all,” but the editors of Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry have collected all known works by “Zion’s poetess” into one meticulously edited and annotated volume (1043).  

The editors are very conscious that “no poet’s reputation is likely to benefit from the publication of that poet’s complete works,” but justify their collection on the grounds that Snow’s proximity to “the center of formative events” in early Mormonism make her poetry an invaluable social, historical, linguistic, theological and political source for research (xv-xvi). “Without question,” the introduction notes, Snow was “the most important woman of letters to emerge from early Mormonism” (xiii). By gathering the poems, dating from 1825 to 1887 (507 in all), the editors have revealed a rich vein for analysis and enjoyment.

The earliest published version of each poem (or for unpublished poems, the earliest handwritten version) is published in chronological order (1051). This ordering reflects Mormon Studies's general favoring of the lens of history, but seems to me the most appropriate way of ordering such a large collection.

Analysis is provided on four levels. First, a general introduction to the volume introduces readers to Eliza R. Snow and gives an overall analysis of her poetry. Second, each section of the book, broken up into various time periods, begins with a more detailed introduction to provide historical context. Third, each individual poem is preceded by an analytical paragraph discussing the circumstances of the poem’s birth and a discussion about the poetic merits of the piece. Finally, the poems are annotated with scriptural and literary references, as well as suggested further reading.  An appendix notes poems of misattributed or doubtful authorship. Textual endnotes provide information on known published versions of the poems along with alternate words and lines. The book is completed with a “Title and First Line” index, a scripture reference index, and a general index.   

Perhaps Snow’s most obvious lasting contributions to the modern Church are her hymns, “Oh My Father” perhaps being the most prominent. Twenty one poems by Snow have appeared in various official Mormon hymnals (xviii). Snow is still the third most represented lyricist in the current official LDS Hymnbook, and the most represented in the “Sacrament” section of the book.1 These hymns all receive due attention in the book.

Some of the most sophisticated literary analysis is reserved for Snow’s best pieces, such as “A Winter Soliloquy.” I include most of that analysis and the poem below (from pp. 825-826) to give readers a glimpse of what to expect from this very noteworthy collection:

Just how good a poet was Eliza R. Snow? This poem, along with poems 427 and 428, seems to spring from pure poetic impulse, rather than from ERS’s role as a spokesperson for the Saints, and these poems are among her finest. The three poems are written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter)…”A Winter Soliloquy” shows her awareness of the subtle possibilities of the iambic pentameter line…she occasionally reverses the stress order of the first foot so the stressed syllable begins the line; besides avoiding metrical monotony, each reversed foot (ll. 2, 5, 14, 26, and 27 are examples) calls attention to the drama of the line…Spring always follows winter, and thus resurrection is inherent in nature. ERS affirms that the sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ promises spring and newness of life for humankind. In a wonderful final line, she ties man’s mortal life back to the foreboding metaphor that begins the poem.

A Winter Soliloquy

    I hear—I see its tread as Winter comes—
Clad in white robes, how terribly august!
Its voice spreads terror—ev’ry step is mark’d
With devastation! Nature in affright,
Languid and lifeless, sinks before the blast.

   Should nature mourn? No: gentle Spring, ere long,
Will reascend the desolated throne:
Her animating voice will rouse from death,
Emerging from its chains, more beauteous far,
The world of variegated Nature.

    Not so with man—Rais'd from the lowly dust,
He blooms awhile; but when he fades, he sets
To rise no more—on earth no more to bloom!
Swift is his course and sudden his decline!
Behold, to-day, his pulse beat high with hope—
His arms extended for the eager grasp
Of pleasure's phantom, fancy's golden ken
Paints in a gilded image on his heart.
Behold, to-morrow where? Ah! who can tell?
Ye slumb'ring tenants, will not you reply?
No: from his bow, death has a quiver sent,
And seal'd your senses in a torpid sleep.
Then who can tell? The living know him not:
Altho' perhaps, a friend or two, may drop
A tear, and say he's gone—she is no more!

    Hark! from on high a glorious sound is heard,
Rife with rich music in eternal strains.
The op'ning heavens, by revelation's voice
Proclaim the key of knowledge unto man.

    A Savior comes—He breaks the icy chain;
And man, resuscitated from the grave,
Awakes to life and immortality,
To be himself—more perfectly himself,
Than e'er he bloom'd in the primeval state
Of his existence in this wintry world.


This volume is a true monument to Eliza R. Snow, including much of her patriotic zeal, her overly-didactic children's rhymes, her impressive lengthy epic poem with faint echoes of Milton and Pope, and her devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood as restored through Joseph Smith. Rarely did Snow allow access to her inner thoughts and struggles, she reserved her voice for encouragement, admonition and faith. The collection is part of the "Documents in Latter-day Saint History" series from BYU Studies, and is jointly published by BYU Press and the University of Utah Press. (The BYU Press imprint is reserved for works which meet a higher level of peer review.2) Congratulations to the editors; this is a phenomenal work.

[1] Ten of Snow’s hymns are included in the current (1985) edition of the LDS Hymnbook, the same number as Joseph L. Townsend (Choose the Right, The Iron Rod, Hope of Israel, etc.) and Isaac Watts ( Joy to the World, He Died! The Great Redeemer Died, etc.) These three tie for third behind Evan Stephens (19) and W. W. Phelps (15). Parley P. Pratt is a close 4th with 9 hymns.

[2] As explained by Heather Seferovich, Sr. executive editor at BYU Studies. See J. Stapley, "The Poetry of Eliza R. Snow: An interview with Jill Mulvay Derr, Part 2,", comment 14. Part one of the interview is here. Also, check out Jared T.'s "Notes From A Celebration of Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry with Jill Derr and Karen Davidson" (21 Nov. 2009) over at