Saturday, April 4, 2009

Emma Lou Thayne: "Where Can I Turn for Peace?"

Though I'm trying to sift the web for the work of emerging Mormon poets (like Darlene, whose publication career begins, as far as I can tell, in 1998), I find myself turning (for the moment) to the work of more established poets. Larsen, for instance, who's been around for years. And today, I'm leaning on Emma Lou Thayne, who started publishing poetry in the early 1970s (again, as far as I can tell).

She's probably best known in non-literary circles---or would be, anyway, if we really paid attention to such things---for her words to the hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" It's one of my favorites, especially for the first stanza, which captures my introspective proclivity to a capital "T" (for "Tyler," I suppose). Here it is:

Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
when other sources cease
to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart,
anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
searching my soul?

I've tinkered with the line breaks and the capitalization a bit to highlight how the rhyming scheme holds the petition together: peace/cease, solace/malice, heart/apart, whole/soul. (I hope you don't mind, Sister Thayne, 'cause it's done.) This movement also illustrates dissective nature of introspection, of drawing ourselves---heart and soul---apart as we search for the source of our discontent and try to slake the longing for peace.

The rest of the poem can be found here.

Hymn writing is one tradition in which Mormon poetry has deep roots, though some of the lyrics are a bit less well-formed than these. Indeed, aside from the scriptures, I think the LDS hymnal is one source to which we might turn more often when trying to coax the muse. There's a power and inspiration in the rhythms and the harmonies there that I'm hard-pressed to find in many other places.

So next time you pull out that beautiful green hymnal, try to forget the notes and dwell for a minute on the words. You might just be surprised at what you'll find.