Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:10:5:Poetry:Zenos' poem

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Poetry in the Book of Mormon text: Zenos' poem

Poetry in the Book of Mormon text: Zenos' poem

[T]he prayer of worship and praise by Zenos in Alma 33 is marked by simplicity and clarity. Its power is developed by repetition that varies slightly but meaningfully:

1
Thou art merciful, O God,
for thou hast heard my prayer,
even when I was in the wilderness;
yea, thou wast merciful
when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies,
and thou didst turn them to me.
Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me,
when I did cry unto thee in my field;
when I did cry unto thee in my prayer,
and thou didst hear me.
And again, O God, when I did turn to my house
thou didst hear me in my prayer.
And when I did turn unto my closet,
O Lord, and prayed unto thee,
thou didst hear me.
2
Yea, thou art merciful unto thy children
when they cry unto thee,
to be heard of thee and not of men,
and thou wilt hear them.
3
Yea, O God, thou hast been merciful unto me,
and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregations.
Yea, and thou hast also heard me when I have been cast out
and have been despised by mine enemies;
yea, thou didst hear my cries,
and wast angry with mine enemies,
and thou didst visit them in thine anger with speedy destruction.
4
And thou didst hear me
because of mine afflictions and my sincerity;
and it is because of thy Son
that thou hast been thus merciful unto me,
therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions,
for in thee is my joy;
for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me,
because of thy Son.(Alma 33:4-11)

In the first stanza there is a movement from the dangerous exterior ("wilderness"—a place where one encounters enemies) to the cultivated exterior ("field") to the safe interior ("house") to the even more secure interior ("closet"). The second stanza serves as a transition, moving the focus from place (stanza 1) to human or social environment (stanza 3). In either case, however, whether with fellow saints ("thy congregations") or with foes ("mine enemies"), Zenos was confident in the integrity of his direct relationship with God ("to be heard of thee and not of men").

The third stanza contains a striking variation from the first. In the first stanza, Zenos expressed gratitude that his enemies were turned to him (that is, their hearts were softened toward him). But in the third, when they renewed their unkindness to him (casting him out and despising him), the prophet cried to God over his afflictions, until God chose to punish Zenos's enemies.

The concluding stanza links Christ with the mercy referred to earlier—bringing to a climactic close the intensified power created throughout the poem by the repetition of "merciful." This stanza moves from past ("thou didst hear me") to future ("I will cry unto thee") to present ("thou hast turned thy judgments away"), closing with the powerful and final repeated phrase: "Because of thy Son."

The poem builds intensity with variations on "hear," "cry," and "merciful." These three words are developed in the first stanza, with "thou didst hear me" working as a repeating climax. They are interlinked in the second stanza, with the principle of prayer being applied to all of God's prayerful children. Then in the third stanza, when we come to "thou didst hear my cries," we feel the emotional shrillness of "cries" in the context of Zenos's being "despised by mine enemies"; here the tension has increased as well. The fourth and last stanza resolves the problem and has a calming effect. The preceding stanza repeats the expressions "enemies," "angry/anger," and "destruction"; in contrast, the last stanza emphasizes "sincerity," "joy," and especially the repeated "because of thy Son."[1]

Notes

  1. Richard Dilworth Rust, "Poetry in the Book of Mormon," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 10.