Reflections. In Prison, April, 1839.

By January 7, 2008

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.[1]

Reflections.

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]

 ___________

[1] “Reflections” was later included in Pratt’s Autobiography, 248-50.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Cultural History From the Archives


Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this, David. Pratt continues to impress me with every bit of his writings I read. What a powerful poem.

    I find the comparison of “Freedom’s eagle” to “The Dove from Noah’s Ark” interesting. I read American imagery into “Freedom’s eagle.” Do you think that’s what Pratt intended?

    Comment by Christopher — January 7, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  2. Chris: I think so. Pratt talks a lot about America in his writings, so it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know enough about the cultural history of the American Eagle to know for sure how he’s using it, but that’s my guess.

    Comment by David Grua — January 7, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  3. I found another reference to the eagle in Pratt’s poem, “O, Missouri, How Art Thou Fallen!” (also published in The Millennium):

    Let us fly, let us fly to the land where the light/ Of Liberty?s stars still illumine each spot,/ Where the cottager?s smile for ever is bright,/ And the chains of a tyrant encircle us not. [p. 81]/ In the fair Illinois the eagle?s bold wing/ Is stretched o?er a people determined and free,/ And the shouts of her sons in melody ring/ O?er her bower covered groves and fine prairie. [p. 82]

    Let me also add here the poem that Pratt wrote about his escape from prison, entitled “Pratt’s Deliverance,” also in The Millennium.

    ?The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed.? ISAIAH/ The chains are rent, the dungeon?s gloom/ No more these active limbs confine./ I rise as from the dreary tomb,/ Where long in prison I repined./ I mount?I fly?I haste away,/ Buoyed, as it were, on angel?s wings;/ O home! O friends! O liberty!?/ O God of strength, thy praise I?ll sing./ Hosanna now in highest strains,/ Glory to God and to the Lamb,/ Hosanna to the king who reigns/ In heaven and earth?the great I Am. [p. 100]

    Comment by David Grua — January 7, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  4. There is also reference to being born up as on eagles wings in Isaiah. But, I wouldn’t be surprised by American reference. I am quite ambivalent in regards to Benjamin F. Johnson’s recollections of the council of fifty, but Joseph appears to have championed some measure of American primacy.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 9, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  5. I found this in JD 2:316, by BY.

    I wish to proceed a little further with regard to the Kingdom of God. The principles, doctrine, germ, and, I may say, marrow of that Kingdom are actually planted on the earth, but does it grow to perfection at once? No. When wheat is planted and germinates, you first see the blade, and by and by the head forming in the root, from which in due time it bursts forth and makes its appearance. When this Kingdom is set up on the earth, and spreads, its condition is happily set forth in the toast that was given here on the fourth, viz.?”May the wings of the American Eagle spread over the nations, and its DOWN fall on America.” Suppose the Kingdom of God is compared to the American Eagle; when it spreads over the nations, what will it do? Will it destroy every other bird that now flies, or that will fly? No, but they will exist the same as they do now. When the kingdom of Heaven spreads over the whole earth, do you expect that all the people composing the different nations will become Latter-day Saints? If you do, you will be much mistaken.

    And this in JD 7:109, by Orson Hyde

    The United States should therefore be regarded by the Latter-day Church as the men that fell the timber and clear the land, removing every obstacle in the way of ploughing and the sowing of seed. Remember, that whatever land or country falls under the Government of the United States, there you may go and preach the Gospel, and not be thrust into prison for it as you now are in many countries. The press also?that mighty engine of power, is free and untrammelled wherever the American eagle builds her nest. I think I hear a voice in low tone from yonder corner reproaching thus:?But, in the United States, your Prophets have been killed, your houses burned, your fields laid waste, your grain consumed by fire, your people driven and scattered before the bitter blasts of persecution, like clouds before the wind!

    But I searched for “freedom’s eagle” in the JDs and got no results.

    And this in Pratt’s autobiography (1874, 189):

    “We erected a tall standard, on which was hoisted our national colors, the stars and stripes, and the bold eagle of American liberty.”

    And this in a letter written by Pratt in January 1843, included in the Auto, 363.

    “Thus, one more malicious lawsuit has terminated in which the rulers have been disappointed and bloodthirsty men have lost their prey–the prophet of the Lord having found protection under the wings of the eagle.”

    Comment by David Grua — January 10, 2008 @ 7:17 pm


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