Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—15

The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 2

**One of the most powerful instruments, in Clinton F. Larson’s view, for exploring various points of view was style. I have already noted his interest in style in connection with his observations that “a range of contrasting styles…can be used for expression of Mormon ideas,” that the clearness of the poetry that he himself wrote varied with the persona, the whole viewpoint, from he was trying to operate as a poet, and that to teach the gospel to people “we have an obligation to deal with various styles and ethnic groups in their own terms.”
**I continue to resist the notion that the artist’s primary task as artist is to “express” anything, including “Mormon ideas,” but Brother Larson recognized (and I recognize) the possibility that the Restorationist artist will be called upon, in fulfillment of his covenant of consecration, to do exactly that, and I read Brother Larson’s observations in this regard as good counsel about how to do that with integrity and effect, and possibly to transcend the merely propagandistic. Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite–14

The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 1

clinton-f-larson_long_trim**Clinton F. Larson picked up the main themes of Elder Whitney and Merrill Bradshaw’s thinking about art and carried them some steps further. (As with Elder Whitney and Brother Bradshaw, I am drawing here from my 1978 master’s thesis.)
**Professor Marden J. Clark, in whom Brother Larsen privately expressed great confidence as an explicator of his work and his intentions, observed in his foreword to The Mantle of the Prophet and Other Plays (Deseret Book Company, 1966), a collection of five of Brother Larson’s poetry dramas, that through all of the plays in the collection  “run the constant, if not the dominant, themes of the nature of prophecy and the transmission of the power of prophecy,” and further: “Beneath these themes and supporting them, stands a simple and surprisingly orthodox faith that provides a larger, more sublime theme: that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind. On this familiar Christian and Mormon ground Dr. Larson stands without equivocation, using his art to explore and bolster and define both the faith and the fact” (p. viii). Clark continued: “From this standpoint all five plays are didactic, in purpose as well as fact. Dr. Larson makes no apology for this, though he lives and writes in an age when didacticism is belittled as never before in the history of art. The artistic defense of such didacticism as Dr. Larson’s, however, is simple enough: (1) Nearly all art is didactic in effect, and (2) this work is not merely didactic” (p. viii).
Clark explained: Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—13

Beauty and Holiness: Merrill Bradshaw

 Merrill Bradshaw set forth a philosophy of art in four statements: “The Articles of Faith—Composer’s Commentary” (BYU Studies, 3, Nos. 3 and 4 [1961], 73 – 85]); “Reflections on the Nature of Mormon Art” (BYU Studies, 9, No. 1 [1968], 25 – 32); Spirit and Music: Letters to a Young Mormon Composer (Brigham Young University Publications, 1976); and Merrill_Bradshaw“Music and the Spirit,” in Arts and Inspiration, Steven P. Sondrup, ed. (BYU Press, 1980). Brother Bradshaw picked up and developed themes first sounded by Elder Orson F. Whitney, primarily the existence of some connection between the arts and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the contribution of the artist to the establishment and the life of Zion. Although he was primarily interested in music, most of what he said can be applied to literary art with the necessary adjustments.
**Brother Bradshaw first defined music as “movement in sound when it embodies the inner gestures of the human spirit” (Letters, p. 2), and then continued: “Our task as composers is to find the ‘hidden fire’ or the expressive contours of our spiritual impulses and embody them in sound…. The process consists of relating your sensitivity for sound to your sensitivity for the spirit” (Letters, p. 2). Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—12

Spirit and Art: Orson Whitney


Orson F. Whitney

**I have called this series “Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite” for two reasons. One is that I see the experiences of seeking and knowing a relationship with, communicating with, being transformed by, interpreting life in the light of knowledge obtained from, endeavoring with varying degrees of success to live in, the light of the Infinite (though we Latter-day Saints usually don’t call it that; we call it “God” or the “Spirit”) as being, in the view I have presented here, the defining “matter” of the Restorationist writer. The other reason is that the “quest for the Infinite” is a key point of contact for purposes of comparison and contrast of Restoration writers and writers of the world, and for exploring historical relationships between them. That is by way of reminding my readers where I have come from, why I am here, and where I am going with this series. In regard to that first reason, I have commented on, by way of section 93, aspects of the poetic practice of Joseph Smith. I want to say something in this and the three subsequent installments about the theories of Orson F. Whitney, Merrill Bradshaw, and Clinton F. Larson, and somewhat about Clinton Larson’s praxis, because I hope their ideas will remain alive in the Restorationist literary conversation.  Now, then….
**The idea that the Holy Ghost will have something to do with whatever is distinctive or characteristic of Restorationist art was, so far as I know, first stated outright by Orson F. Whitney, Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—11

My Poems, Part 3

A turning point in my development as a writer was the composing of this:

Take, eat: this is my body
—Mark 14:22
Like a deer he comes to me,
parting the ferns,
like a deer with bright antlers.
I chase him across meadows,
beside streams I pursue him,
and he does not weary;
but in the thicket he surprises me,
he lets my arrow pierce him.
He gives me of his flesh at evening,
and in the bright morning
like a deer he comes to me.

It appeared first in Dialogue in 1980 and then was anthologized in Harvest, as “Take, Eat,” and Richard Cracroft told me once that he was using it regularly in his Mormon lit course. It has undergone some tinkering since it was first published in Dialogue, with title, epigraph, format, punctuation, and verb tense (I put it originally in past tense, later realized that it belonged in the present).

Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—10

My Poems, Part 2

   It was 1978, and I was thirty-four years old, when I sat before a typewriter to compose my first poem as an adult, and the product was “A Daughter of Sarah Is My Beloved”:

A daughter of Sarah is my beloved,
A priestess in Abraham’s house.
Her knee is bent to the Lord;
She dwells within the circle of his law.
For virtue she is clean as the rain,
As the streams that descend the high slopes.
Her smile is as sunlight on meadows,
Her speech a sparrow’s flight for gentleness.
Her counsel is heard in the congregation;
To the ears of the wise she speaks wisdom.
She gives bread to those who have not asked;
The afflicted receive comfort at her hand.
Her love she has not withheld from me;
She has given me all delights.
Sons and daughters she has given me;
Our generations will fill the heavens.
Our covenant will stand forever;
Beyond death I shall know her embrace.
Though the earth melt at his coming,
I shall never be parted from her.

At the back of the mind, as I began to write, was the thought that I wanted to work out of my own deepest being (Romanticism just keeps on keepin’ on, doesn’t it?), which had undergone twenty years of shaping by the experiences of being prepared to become and then being a Latter-day Saint, under the covenants and benefiting (I would like to think) from the sanctifying companionship of the Holy Ghost. Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite, Part 8

D&C 93 as a Poem — 3

I have been discussing D&C 93 as a poem. In the first part of this discussion I argued that the central theme of this poem is unity with God, and a conception of that unity that places it in the philosophical neighborhood of the nondualism of Coleridge, Schelling, and the Vedantists. In the second part I began arguing that section 93 is a unified poem of which that theme is the main controlling element, and I focused on structure, both dramatic and formal, calling attention particularly to the use of parallelism, including that special type of parallelism called chiasm, and suggested that those structures embodied meaning. And I am presenting section 93 as exhibit A in my argument that at least some sections of the D&C are poems of a high order because almost everything I want to say at this time about Joseph Smith as poet is illustrated in this section, and because I think—and I wish I could put this in large bold italics with arrows point at it—that the metaphysical element in this poem is extremely important, Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite, No. 5

Joseph Smith, Romanticist-like Poietes, part 2


Here, before going any further, I quote myself, from the introduction to Six Poems by Joseph Smith, to address a concern that may have arisen for some readers:

“Some readers might be troubled by my calling Joseph Smith the author of these works, for are they not the word of God, and is God not therefore the author? I submit that, for hermeneutical purposes, it is more helpful to understand some things about scripture by treating it as written not by God but by men in response to their experience with God. (This actually has been a principle of biblical hermeneutics since Friedrich Schleiermacher [1768 – 1834].) It is meaningless to speak of God’s literary style or method, for God will employ any style or method that will accomplish his purpose; but when he speaks to men, in order to be understood by them, he must necessarily speak according to their understanding; and therefore, at least indirectly, the human mind through which revelation comes to the rest of us necessarily has a part in shaping it, even when (as I am inclined to think happens only exceptionally, though my own experience with revelation is admittedly limited) the words are dictated one by one. The words of Isaiah are in a different Hebrew style from that of the words of Amos, and that is best explained by differences in the minds of Isaiah and Amos, and perhaps of their audiences; and in section 1, which is called ‘the Lord’s preface’ to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord is presented as saying that the contents of the Doctrine and Covenants ‘were given unto [his] servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.’ I draw further support from this paragraph in The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books, p. xxix: Continue Reading →