We often hear about Joseph Smith’s sojourn in a Missouri prison during the winter of 1838-1839, but Parley P. Pratt also spent about eight months in a Missouri jail, an experience that receives little attention. Those eight months were, in a word, prolific, as Pratt produced not only a major full-length treatise describing the Mormon persecutions in Missouri, but also an important theological essay. He also wrote several surviving letters and poems. Some of the poems are better than others, but here is one that I find especially powerful. I’m not an English major, so I can’t be an adequate judge of meter (it seems that Pratt scrapped rhymes here; probably a good decision), but I think that the message is very moving coming from one that wondered if he’d ever again breath free air. Pratt escaped prison on July 4, 1839 and published this poem in The Millennium and Other Poems in 1840.
In Prison, April, 1839.
O freedom, must thy spirit now withdraw
From earth, returning to its native heaven,
There to dwell, till armed with sevenfold vengeance
It comes again to earth with king Messiah,
And all his marshaled hosts in glory bright,
To tread the winepress of Almighty God,
And none escape?-ye powers of heaven forbid;
Let freedom linger still on shores of time,
And in the breasts of thine afflicted saints,
Let freedom find a peaceful retirement,
A place of rest;–till o’er the troubled earth
Mercy, justice, and eternal truth,
While journeying hand in hand to exalt the humble
And debase the proud, shall find some nation [p. 62]
Poor, oppressed, afflicted and despised,
Cast out and trodden under foot of tyrants
Proud, the hiss, the by-word, and the scorn of knaves.
And there let freedom’s spirit wide prevail.
And grow, and flourish-`mid the humble poor,
Exalted and enriched by virtue,
Knowledge, temperance, and love-till o’er the earth
Messiah comes to reign;–the proud consumed,
No more oppress the poor,
Let Freedom’s eagle then, (forthcoming like
The Dove from Noah’s Ark) on lofty pinions soar,
And spread its wide domain from end to end,
O’er all the vast expanse of this wide earth,
While freedom’s Temple rears its lofty spires
Amid the skies, and on its bosom rests!
A cloud by day and flaming fire by night!!
But stay, my spirit, though thou feign would’st soar
On high; mid scenes of glory, peace and joy;
From bondage free, and bid thy jail farewell [p. 63]
Stop,–wait awhile,–let patience have her perfect work,
Return again to suffering scenes through which
The way to glory lies; and speak of things
Around thee,–thou art in prison still.
But spring has now returned, the wintry blasts
Have ceased to howl through my prison crevices.
The soft and gentle breezes of the south
Are whistling gaily past; and incense sweet
On zephyr’s wing, with fragrance fills the air,
Wafted from blooming flowrets of the spring;
While round my lonely dungeon oft is heard
Melodious strains as if the birds of spring
In anthems sweet conspired to pity and
Console the drooping spirits there confined.
All things around me show that days, and weeks,
And months have fled, although to me not mark’d
By Sabbaths-and but faintly mark’d by dim
And somber rays of light alternate mid
The gloom of overhanging night which still
Pervades my drear and solitary cell.
Where now those helpless ones I left to mourn? [p. 64]
Have they perished? No.-what then!-has some
Elijah call’d and found them in the last
Extreme and multiplied their meal and oil?
Yes, verily,–the Lord has fill’d the hearts
Of his poor saints with everlasting love,
Which, in proportion to their poverty,
Increased with each increasing want, till all
Reduced into the widow’s mite and then
Like her, their living they put in, and thus
O’erflowed the treasury of the Lord with more
And thus supported, fed, and clothed; and moved
From scenes of sorrow to a land of peace-
They live!-and living they still do rejoice
In tribulation deep:
Well knowing their redemption draweth nigh! [p. 65]
 “Reflections” was later included in Pratt’s Autobiography, 248-50.