Longing for Home

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(This is an excerpt from the book Eliza by Karen Lynn Davidson and Jill Mulvay Derr.)

In the course of the Nauvoo years, Eliza had separated herself from her parents’ household, geographically and religiously, and the death of Joseph left her once again without the protection and security of family ties. She was married to Brigham Young for time in October of 1844, but it would be more than two years before this second marriage could offer the security of a true family and home. As she faced the move to the West, she was surrounded by like-minded Saints who respected her as a poet and as a leader of the now disbanded Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Though Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young had arranged for her to live in the Nauvoo home of Stephen and Hannah Markham, Eliza nevertheless was ultimately alone. As the Saints prepared to leave Nauvoo, the daunting prospect of a long trek to a new refuge, under a new leader, and without close associates, surely must have required her to search within herself for even greater resources of courage and faith.

In October 1845, following the death of her father, Oliver Snow, and in the midst of personal loneliness and uncertainty, Eliza wrote the last of her nearly one hundred Nauvoo poems. “O My Father” is her most beloved poem, one that has touched millions of hearts. For all Saints, it expresses a personal connectedness to God, from premortal past, to earthly present, to eternal future. Most memorably, perhaps, it articulates the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven. For Eliza, it also expressed a displaced person’s longing for a home; note such words as “dwellest,” “habitation,” “stranger,” and “wandered.” The poem bears eloquent testimony of the one home that she knew would one day be hers—her celestial home with her heavenly parents.

O My Father

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place;
When shall I regain thy presence,
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtur’d near thy side?
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast plac’d me here on earth,
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth:
Yet oft times a secret something
Whispered you’re a stranger here;
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
I had learn’d to call thee father
Through thy spirit from on high;
But until the key of knowledge
Was restor’d, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare;
Truth is reason—truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence—
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, mother, may I meet you
In your royal court on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

(Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, Eliza: The Life and Faith of Eliza R. Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 50, 52-53.)

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