Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Church History poem, attempt #2

Joseph Sr., ca. 1812

In the spring he sows hope,
but come fall he reaps only the empty wind—
so all through the long Vermont winter,
there’s a bottle in his hand.

He drinks like Noah—to drown
a flood’s worth of sorrows,
drinks until he staggers to and fro
as earth itself will in the end.

This is how I understand that story where his son,
infection arching through the bone,
turns down the surgeon’s offer of anesthetizing liquor.
“I don’t need that,” the boy says to his father,
“I just need you.”


  1. Thanks for this, James. It both humanizes and brings dignity to the Smith clan.

  2. .

    Is there historical backing for Sr's drinking? I don't remember Lucy mentioning it and don't know what reliable source else to check.

    1. The only written reference I know is an 1834 blessing to Hyrum Smith where Joseph Sr. borrows language from the Noah story to praise Hyrum for supporting his father in all circumstances: "Though he has been out of the way through wine, though hast never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn." I suppose it's possible to read that figuratively, but heavy male drinking was pretty common on the American frontier in that era. The easiest interpretation seems to be that Joseph Sr. drank--sometimes to excess--in the years when the boys were still at home. The fact that Joseph Sr. would mention it years later in a blessing makes me suspect it was a memorable part of the family dynamic, and it does help the surgery story make more sense.



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