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—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 →

In Tents #37, Some Additional Views on Figures and Speech

I have had a few additional views in relation to this matter.
(D&C 128:2)

We have to drop everyone twice, but we try to drop them gently. If they survive they get to go home and we want as many to survive as we can.

The immediate cause of this New Year’s dream was listening to Diane Rehm’s interview with John Grisham on Dec. 31, where he read the opening of Sycamore Row, a description of a man’s careful preparations to hang himself with a proper hangman’s noose wrapped thirteen times. A more distant cause of the dream was a story called “Far to Fall” from an episode of Snap Judgment I heard August 9, 2013 while wandering through our stake’s third annual clothing exchange. (“Should I take this hat?” “Only if you want to look like Gilligan.”)

Chaplain Chris Hoke was telling about how he had been called to the prison to talk to an attempted suicide, a man who had asked for him by name because he had laid hands on the man for his back pain. The man had made a noose of his bedsheets and put it around his neck. When the cell door opened for lunch he ran out, tied it to the railing and threw himself over. Landing pulled his spine into alignment, and brought him new joy, new gusto. Later, Hoke heard, after being deported to Mexico the prisoner had killed 14 people there, as part of a drug cartel, and used the same word, gusto, when asked why.

I’ve had the dream before. Continue Reading →

In Tents # 36 Hyvää Joulua ja Onellista Uutta Vuotta

Way back last January, our stake Leaf-A-Ciety president spoke in our sacrament meeting, mentioning her mission in Finland. I went up and talked to her afterwards, “Onellista uutta vuotta.” She looked startled and blinked a couple of times, like she wasn’t quite sure what she had heard–Did he just say Happy New Year? “Kiitos,” she said. Thank you.

I didn’t serve my mission in Finland. Because of the brain surgery mentioned in #33 the doctor recommended my staying stateside. But my brother Kevin did. He turned 19 shortly after we returned home, and went right back. And my cousin Nathan Soderborg served in Finland. (Favorite family story: Nathan’s mother was talking with her mother on a party line, and to stop the nosy neighbor from listening in they switched to Swedish. The neighbor called the police about spies talking on her party line.)

I had lived in Finland because my father finally took a sabbatical.

Continue Reading →

in verse # 33 : a Blake vision

William Blake was perfectly capable of writing rhyming verse; it can and has been set to music.  Here is the text of an anthem known as “Jerusalem,” written by Blake around 1804 and set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916:[i]

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.[ii]

“Those feet” are the feet of Jesus, and Blake is responding to the legend that he was brought to England during the “lost years[iii]” of his youth by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea — a myth which Blake then connects to the idea that Jesus will return Continue Reading →

In Tents #31 Some Tools for Studying Scripture, Part III

Why The King James Version?

You might notice I cadged my title from a J. Reuben Clark book I have not read. President Clark felt it was simply the best Bible translation, but he wasn’t the only person ever to use the phrase. Duckduckgo the phrase and you’ll find a whole spectrum of opinion across Protestant denominations. As Reynolds Price said (in A Palpable God, or Three Gospels) the King James Bible IS the Bible for millions of English speakers. Protestants, anyway.

Let me emphasize that last sentence. The KJV was written to promote a particular theological viewpoint—or several viewpoints. One was revolutionary, but seems to us benign. In the roughly 80 years between the time William Tyndale made his translation and saw part of it (and his body and its life) destroyed by authorities, and the the time the translation was revised and completed by King James’ scholars, the idea of having a vernacular translation in English had become safer. Producing a vernacular translation didn’t put your life at risk—at least if you had the protection of a king.

Because we believe in the idea of free access to scripture, unfettered, we don’t see one of the theological/political points the translation was making. You could say the KJV addressed every theological controversy, every error, every truth controverted between Catholics and Protestants in Europe for the last hundred years, controversies which would still be burned over in New York 220 years later.

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in verse # 24 : appointed to be read in churches

All poetry is appointed to be read in churches; not all verse is.  There is a long history of verse in English, in German, in Russian — probably in every language — written to be read in toilets, in taverns, in rowdy company, and in solitude.  In each case, the writer has an expectation of an audience, although many contemporary poets would neither expect nor hope for their poems to be read in churches.  Certainly the writers of the verse in the second case would not.  Indeed, they might be more shocked to hear their verse read in church — we are talking about a reading aloud — than the aforementioned contemporary poet.  Much of this kind of verse concerns itself with two subjects,  Continue Reading →