Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Poetic Borrowing in Early Mormonism Michael Hicks x I he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it seems, has had little ^ use for poetry that cannot be sung. The chief place of verse has always been the hymnal, and not without reason: songs can be relied upon to teach principles through simply sung couplets. This was no doubt very important in times when literacy among the American Saints was less abundant than today. More doctrine had to be learned by ear. Sacred hymns and songs, then as now, distilled dogma into memorable rhymes and turns of melody, while congregational singing itself strengthened the group spirit of the Mormon community. For the purposes of the Church, some hymns could be borrowed outright from the Protestants. Others needed tailoring to fit Mormon thought. Words were often recast, but old tunes were kept for the power and practical value of familiarity — the early hymnbooks had no printed music.1 Many of those lyrics which now strike us as peculiarly Mormon were modeled by the Church's leading poets after folk hymns, ballads, and patriotic songs. They are stepchildren of once popular songs that have long since been buried. Uncovering the tunes to which many Mormon verses were originally sung (as identified in their first journal publications) often reveals textual models which demonstrate how Saints like W. W. Phelps, Eliza R. Snow, and John Taylor, in their own ways, sought to turn the water of popular culture into the new wine of the kingdom. W. W. Phelps, well-known among Latter-day Saints as an author of hymns, should more properly be known as the foremost reviser of hymns in early Mor- MICHAEL HICKS holds a doctorate in music from the University of Illinois. Currently employed by a music store in Palo Alto, California, he also composes and sings. He has published music, fiction, essays, and poetry in various journals. A version of this paper was read at the Mormon History Association annual meeting, Omaha, May 1983. 1 The earliest LDS hymnal to include musical notation was the unofficial work by J. C. Little and G. B. Gardner, A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the use of The Latter Day Saints (Bellows Falls, VT: Blake and Bailey, 1844), which gave the melody and a bass line for each hymn.