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
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.