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Eliza R. Snow, “My Father in Heaven,” October 1845

Eliza R. Snow, “My Father in Heaven,” Oct. 1845, Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, IL), Nov. 15, 1845, vol. 6, no. 17, p. 1039.

See image of the original document at lib.byu.edu, courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.


Eliza R. Snow poem “My Father in Heaven”

Eliza R. Snow poem. Eliza Snow’s best-known hymn text, later titled “O My Father,” was first published in the church newspaper Times and Seasons. Frequently sung in church meetings, it became a particular staple at Relief Society gatherings. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

Eliza R. Snow, who served as secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo from 1842 to 1844 and married Joseph Smith on June 29, 1842, completed the following poem, initially titled “My Father in Heaven,” a little over a year after the death of her husband and within a short time after the death of her father, Oliver Snow.1 Since her marriage, Snow had lived with Sarah Cleveland, Joseph and Emma Smith, Jonathan and Elvira Cowles Holmes, Leonora Snow Leavitt Morley, and Stephen and Hannah Markham.2 Her marriage was a secret, and wherever she lived in Nauvoo, Snow was always a guest. She composed the poem while living in the Markhams’ attic, where she moved on April 14, 1844, in a room where the ceiling was “so low that she could almost reach the rafters as she lay in bed.”3

By 1845 Snow was well known for her poetry; she had published numerous poems prior to her baptism in 1835 and since then had written dozens of poems and published many in both Latter-day Saint and other newspapers. “My Father in Heaven” was the last poem Snow wrote in Nauvoo; it appeared in the November 15, 1845, issue of the Times and Seasons, with the subscript “City of Joseph, Oct. 1845.” Rootedness is one of its major themes, as it speaks of place, habitation, residing, and dwelling while describing the entire Latter-day Saint conception of the plan of salvation: spirit life in a premortal state, the veil of forgetting, the purpose of life, and return after death to a loving Father. Snow’s poem also speaks of the Latter-day Saint belief in Mother in Heaven. The extant writings and discourses of Joseph Smith include no mention of a Mother in Heaven, but later accounts indicate that he taught this doctrine to Snow and others in private.4

The poem was first published explicitly as a hymn in 1851.5 In 1855 the Deseret News called it Brigham Young’s favorite hymn.6 Snow’s first printed compilation of poems, Poems: Religious, Historical, and Political, features this poem on the first page.7


POETRY,

For the Times and Seasons.

MY FATHER IN HEAVEN,8

BY MISS ELIZA R. SNOW

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 recolleection

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 knowledge9

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.

City of Joseph,10 Oct. 1845.

Footnotes

  1. [1]It is unknown how long it took news of her father’s death to reach Snow, but he died at Walnut Grove, Illinois, approximately ninety miles from Nauvoo, on October 17, 1845. For the biographical and cultural context of this poem, see Jill Mulvay Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996–1997): 85–126.

  2. [2]Eliza R. Snow, Journal, 1842–1882, CHL, June 29, 1842; Aug. 14 and 17–18, 1842; Feb. 11, 1843; July 21, 1843; Apr. 14, 1844.

  3. [3]Bathsheba W. Smith, “An Item of History,” Woman’s Exponent, June 1901, 30:3; Snow, Journal, Apr. 14, 1844.

  4. [4]Zina D. H. Young recalled asking Joseph Smith whether she would see her mother again following her mother’s death in July 1839. Smith replied affirmatively and added, “More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” Further, David McKay (father of David O. McKay) reported a conversation he had with Snow while driving her from Huntsville to Eden, Utah. He asked whether Snow learned of a Mother in Heaven by revelation from God. She responded, “No,” and explained that her inspiration had come from Joseph Smith’s teachings.

    References to a Mother in Heaven appear in Nauvoo publications following the death of Joseph Smith and before Eliza Snow’s “My Father in Heaven.” In late 1844 those gathered to dedicate the Seventies Hall sang a hymn that contained the couplet “Come to me; here’s the myst’ry that man hath not seen; / Here’s our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen.” Phelps also wrote about a Mother in Heaven in “Paracletes,” his fictional series that contextualized the earth’s history within a grander cosmic scheme. (Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911], 15–16; David McKay to Mrs. James Hood, Mar. 16, 1916, copy, CHL; William W. Phelps, “Come to Me,” Times and Seasons, Jan. 15, 1845, 6:783; Joseph’s Speckled Bird [William W. Phelps], “Paracletes,” Times and Seasons, May 1, 1845, 6:891–892; June 1, 1845, 6:917–918; Samuel Brown, “William Phelps’s Paracletes, an Early Witness to Joseph Smith’s Divine Anthropology,” International Journal of Mormon Studies 2 [Spring 2009]: 62–82; Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’”; see also David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, no. 1 [2011]: 70–97.)

  5. [5]Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Europe (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1851), 143.

  6. [6]“Deseret Theological Institute,” Deseret News, June 20, 1855, 120.

  7. [7]Eliza R. Snow, Poems: Religious, Historical, and Political, 2 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1856; Salt Lake City: Latter-day Saints’ Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1877), 1:1.

  8. [8]By 1856 “My Father in Heaven” was also known as “O My Father.” In her first published volume of poems, Snow titled the work “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother.” (Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father,’” 105; Snow, Poems,1:1.)

  9. [9]For “key of knowledge,” see Doctrine and Covenants 84:19; 128:14.

  10. [10]“City of Joseph” was a name the Latter-day Saints gave to Nauvoo after the Nauvoo city charter was repealed by the Illinois state legislature in January 1845. (Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002], 464–472.)