I don’t think Nephi Anderson was a bad writer, but he was–like most writers–guilty of producing some less than impressive works. Take “Duplicity,” for instance. I discovered it during my research trip last year in the Church History Library. It was written in 1890, when Anderson was twenty-five years old. It’s the earliest thing I’ve discovered by Anderson, although I’m sure there is earlier stuff out there. It was read during a teacher’s conference in Ogden, but I don’t know if it was ever published.
As indicated in the title, the poem is a fairly standard treatment on the theme of duplicity. I find the first four lines particularly amusing, with predictable rhymes and the clumsy line “Thou art a monster grim.” As it progresses, though, I think the poem improves, yet I wouldn’t call it Anderson’s best work. Of course, I haven’t made a study of his poetry, but what I have read of it hasn’t impressed me as much as his long fiction.
What I do find interesting about the poem is its context. The poem was written to be read and performed before an audience. I’ve come across accounts of Anderson reading his work to an audience before–with a less than stellar reception*–so I wonder how “Duplicity” played out with its audience. In 1890, Anderson would have been a new teacher with his success as a popular Mormon writer still in the future. Moreover, he was still a year away from his first mission to Norway, which may suggest that his public speaking skills were still rough and largely untried before anyone but a classroom full of young students. I wonder how and how well Anderson carried out the reading.
Anyway, here’s the poem:
Duplicity, what evil lies
Within thy double-dealing eyes!
Thou art a monster grim. Within
Thy heart is hid a grievous sin.
First from thy meek, smoothe lips are sent
Soft honeyed words to represent
Kind feeling; and when simple hearts,
Not skilled in all thy wily arts,
Extend the tender flower of trust,
Thou scorn it, tread it in the dust.
Duplicity, in Godlike guise
Thou drovest Eve from Paradise.
And ever since the world began
Has stirr’d up strife in man ‘gainst man.
Oft hidden in the church, the state;
Found dwelling in the low, the great;
Existed in the rich, the poor,
The meek, the proud, the evil doer;
In lowest depths, on top most heights,
Where e’er man’s pinions take their flights.
Duplicity, what loving bands
Are burst asunder by thy hands!
Fair maiden, wife, or motherhood
Escape not they capricious mood.
In cooing lovers’ calm retreat,
Thou comest with thy dark deceit.
E’en round the sacred hearth of home
Thou’rt not afraid, bold one, to come.
Where peace should reign, where love should bless,
Thou’rt seen in all thy hideousness.
Duplicity, in armour bright,
The cause of freedom feigns to fight.
Yet, but within that glit’ring mail
Cowers a fearful, craven snail.
Sitting on heights, beneath thine eye
Earth’s hoards of toiling creatures lie,
Looking to thee for help, for light
Protection in each vested right
With the right hand stretched out to bless
Thy left pours forth destructiveness.
Duplicity, what meaning lies
Within thy double-dealing eyes?
Who, laughing maid, from wanton glances
Can judge aright fond lovers’ chances?
From eye, or hand or lips can guess?
For oft thy “no” means naught but “yes.”
Who can discern thee in thy guises?
Who are prepared for thy surprises?
Thou art too wise, too deep for me,
Read before the Ogden City Teachers’ Association. May 6, 1890.
* In the 1 July 1894 issue of the Woman’s Exponent, this mixed review was given of Anderson’s reading at a Brigham City event:
“Changing the character of the entertainment was an original true story composed and read by Nephi Anderson. The reading and the scenes were restful and true to life and portrayed the talent of the young man in story telling, though the pictures were not so powerfully drawn as to be at all exciting” (157).