Below is John Lyon’s elegy for Nauvoo, “The Ruined City.” I’m usually not a fan of poetry that runs longer than fifteen lines, but I found this particular poem fascinating for the way it laments the fall of Nauvoo and uses it as a symbol for all of Mormonism’s past setbacks. I also like how it contrasts the Zionic-utopian ideals upon which the city was founded with the debauchery of the mob and the fallen world. In it, I hear an echo of a longing for a lost Zion that I think runs through much of Mormon literature–even today.
I’d also say that I think it shares some DNA with Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but since I’ve not reviewed either poem in some time, I’ll leave it as a suggestion or a possibility.
The Ruined City
by John Lyon
(from The Harp of Zion, 1853)
Alas ! and is this far-famed city doomed
To be the residence of ruffian men ;
The monument of mad sectarian ire,
Where dwelt, or sought to dwell, in peace secure,
The gathered thousands of the latter-day
The Saints !
But why deserted thus ? ’tis strange
That chosen men should perish by the sword,
And vanquish’d, leave their dear-bought homes,
And cultured fields, to blood-stained, murd’rous men.
Alas, Nauvoo ! fair city of the Seer !
Thy streets, where once the busy throng were wont
To glide, are now o’er-grown with grass and weeds ;
Thy doorless, paneless houses, mournful wail,
Deep sighs, now gossiped by the gusty wind ;
The wood-huts torn away, now leave no mark
Where once their frame-work stood, save chimney stalk
Peering alone, like gravestones o’er the dead.
Alas ! had God forgotten to be kind ?
Was not this city built His purpose to
Fulfil, and found his Kingdom last of all
Upon this earth ? Was not this Temple reared,
Wherein the secrets of eternity
Might be made known, though now a ruined mass !
Here riot revels undisturbed, and here
Debauch’ry’s florid, sin-provoking face
Reveals the recklessness of lawless life
Alike regardless of all law, they brave
Stern justice, decency, and natural right.
Heavens ! and this that Zion once was called,
Has now become a hell of lawless fiends.
The grove ! where erst the hymn of praise was sung,
Is now the haunt of ribaldry and jest ;
And where the words of Inspiration flowed
From holy men, is now the fane of lust,
And frothy, sacrilegious mirth.
And has this place, where honest men once lived,
Become a den of uncaged, unclean birds I
Whose frontal visage wears the cursed mark
Of Cain ! No business tells their love of frugal life,
Then- fields, unploughed, the sluggard’s harvest bear,
And squalid wretches their ill-earn’d pay,
Proclaim their envy, idleness, and want ;
But deadlier than the crime of Cain, they’ve shed
The purest blood e’er flow’d in human vein,
Save the immaculate Son of God ! yes,
Joseph, thou wert slain, and Hyrum with thoo
Fell, by the assassins’ deadly rifle ball !
While others with thee shared a lesser doom,
Though marr’d, were sav’d by time’s preventing hand
To give their evidence, in time to come,
Of martyred men who fell for heaven-born Truth.
And thus, thy curse, thy blasting withering curse,
Shall cease not, till thy ruin woeful tells
A living, lingering death, more frightful far
Than Carthage, or old Sodom’s awful doom ;
Yes, strange to tell, thou’lt be the first to rise
When dire destruction, and the scourging rod
Have swept, and cleans’d pollution from the earth.
Here rest the ashes of the martyred dead,
Whose lives were spent in Truth’s eternal cause ;
In perils oft ‘mong would-be friends and foes,
Scorned by the world, and like the hunted roe,
Panted in seclusion from the chase of
Bloodhounds bearing human form, to breathe and
Run again, ’till the envenomed world
Shed their pure blood, and ” chased them up to Heaven.”
Alas ! but why should error triumph ? why
Should they whom God had sent to save, be left
To fall ? Hush, reason reft of Revelation, hear !
‘Twas all foreknown that they to whom this tale
Should come, would treat their message with contempt ;
And by their death and testimony seal
The Priesthood, and its power, and farther spread
The heaven-born Truth. E’en this bleak ruin gave
The tell-tale echo to a slumbering world,
That fame’s loud trump nor thousand tongues could reach.
And thou Nauvoo, the first of stakes, though spoiled,
Art writ, and sealed in the archives of Heaven.,
And shall come forth, in primal glory crowned,
And flourish in celestial bloom, when Saints
Shall reign, and Christ and God be all in all.