October 17, 2012

The Kingsley's Fed Imprisoned Joseph Smith in Epic Poetry

I found a delicious story!  It shows us that good little things can make hard things easier.  

From LDS (Mormon) Church History, we know that Joseph Smith was persecuted pretty severely in the years following the First Vision.  Often he was jailed unfairly, and subjected to abuses there.  For one thing, the food was terrible, and there were fears that it was poisoned.  While many of the saints were at a loss as to how to help Joseph, one family had an answer—they would sneak him food.  When Joseph Smith was suffering in the Liberty Jail in December 1838, the Kingsley’s helped him.  

“Just across the street, directly opposite the jail lived a family of Latter-day Saints, who were full of sympathy for their imprisoned brethren. This family befriended them in the only way within their power. Having heard it whispered that their food was not, at all times, of a very good quality, they, as often as convenient, and when safe to do so, found means to pass to them through the prison grates, (which could be reached by a person standing upon the ground from the outside) various articles of food, such as cakes, pies, etc., which they themselves prepared. This had to be done very cautiously, under the cover of night. The names of those who performed these good Samaritan-like deeds, were Samuel Kingsley and his wife Olive Martha, also his sisters Rachel, Eleanor and Flora. The doubtful character of the food sometimes placed before the prisoners, by those to whom that duty had been assigned (it is said that human flesh had actually been given them to eat) doubtless caused them to duly appreciate and relish these wholesome repasts, knowing, as they did, that they had been carefully prepared by the hands of sympathizing friends.”  Lyman Omer Littlefield Autobiography 1888

Making and delivering food is a really small thing.  Samuel, Olive, Rachel, Eleanor and Flora Kingsley didn’t have the ability to free Joseph Smith and his friends, or prevent the jailers and mobbers from abusng them.  But they could make them foodstuff and sneak it to them.  

What makes this account even more delicious is the fun epic poem made of the event.  Lee Allred, a Mormon author, wrote this poem about the incident, using the name of ‘Eliza’ to represent one of the women sneaking food into the jail.  

“Sexton,” Eliza’s white lips whispered, pointing to the prison grate,
With its crossed bars iron rusted, bars crossed tight like darkened fate,
“I’ve a prophet in the prison, doomed to eat most dreadful chow
At the ringing of the chow bell, so I ask you break your vow.
Old Guv Boggs comes not til sunset,” and she held preserve jar tight
As she spoke in husky whispers, “Chow bell must not right tonight!”
“‘Liza,” calmly spoke the Sexton (every word like succotash
Fed to her with small anchovies, smelling like five day old trash).
“Long, long years I’ve rung the chow bell in that dank and dreary jail
Every breakfast, every lunchtime, served them slops from my pig pail.
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right:
Now I’must, I must not miss it. Chow Bell must be rung tonight!”
Wild her eyes and pale her features, Liz must win him. How, oh how?
Change his mind and stop that chow bell, make him break his solemn vow.
Then remembeed with advantage what old Ma Mack Smith once said.
Quickest way to menfolk’s heartstrings, tempt their tummies not their head.
So she opened wicker basket, plums preserves and cold ham bright;
Sexton speaking through a mouthful: “Chow bell mufth nnnnth ring tonightfh!”
Then with quick step ‘Liz bound forward, sprang against the cold jail wall,
Left the Sexton chowing downing on the string beans canned last fall.
Not one moment paused the maiden, second basket held in tow,
Hefted up the sweet peach cobbler, cold cuts swinging to and fro.
Hefted up the Boston baked beans, Angel Food’s cake moist and light,
Upward held her wicker basket. “Chow bell shall not right tonight!”

The funny part of this story is that Lee used a really sappy epic love poem as his inspiration for this poem.  As a student of English, he must have remembered it for its’ almost ridiculous level of drama.  I attached a copy of that poem.  Note how silly it sounds after reading Lee’s poem above.  (Read them aloud, these are even more delicious that way!)

Sometimes all we can do to help those who need it is something seemingly small and trivial.  But to the one we serve, it might make a big difference.   Camilla Kimball, wife of Prophet Spencer W. Kimball taught that we should never suppress the desire to do something kind for another.  Even if it may seem like such a small thing that it would be trivial or even bothersome.  That’s a good thing to keep in mind.   

 (The original poem)
by Rose Hartwick Thorpe (1850-1939)
Slowly England's sun was setting oe'r the hilltops far away,
Filling all the land with beauty at the close of one sad day;
And its last rays kissed the forehead of a man and maiden fair,--
He with steps so slow and weary; she with sunny, floating hair;
He with bowed head, sad and thoughtful, she, with lips all cold and white,
Struggling to keep back the murmur, "Curfew must not ring to-night!"

"Sexton," Bessie's white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
With its walls tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp and cold,--
"I've a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew, and no earthly help is nigh.
Cromwell will not come till sunset;" and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, "Curfew must not ring to-night!"

"Bessie," calmly spoke the sexton (every word pierced her young heart
Like a gleaming death-winged arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart),
"Long, long years I've rung the curfew from that gloomy, shadowed tower;
Every evening, just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight hour.
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right:
Now I'm old, I will not miss it. Curfew bell must ring to-night!"

Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow.
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
"At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must "die.
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. "Curfew must not ring to-night!"

She with quick step bounded forward, sprang within the old church-door,
Left the old man coming slowly, paths he'd trod so oft before.
Not one moment paused the maiden, But with eye and cheek aglow,
Staggered up the gloomy tower, Where the bell swung to and fro;
As she climbed the slimy ladder, On which fell no ray of light,
Upward still, her pale lips saying, "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"

She has reached the topmost ladder, o'er her hangs the great dark bell;
Awful is the gloom beneath her, like the pathway down to hell.
See! the ponderous tongue is swinging; 'tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Her eyes flash with sudden light,
As she springs, and grasps it firmly: "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"

Out she swung,-- far out. The city Seemed a speck of light below,--
There twixt heaven and earth suspended, As the bell swung to and fro.
And the sexton at the bell-rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought that twilight curfew rang young Basil's funeral knell.
"Still the maiden, clinging firmly, quivering lip and fair face white,
Stilled her frightened heart's wild throbbing: "Curfew shall not ring tonight!"

It was o'er, the bell ceased swaying; and the maiden stepped once more
Firmly on the damp old ladder, where, for hundred years before,
Human foot had not been planted. The brave deed that she had done
Should be told long ages after. As the rays of setting sun
Light the sky with golden beauty, aged sires, with heads of white,
Tell the children why the curfew did not ring that one sad night.

O'er the distant hills comes Cromwell. Bessie sees him; and her brow,
Lately white with sickening horror, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands, all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still hagggard, with the anguish it had worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
"Go! your lover lives," said Cromwell. "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"

Wide they flung the massive portals, led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. Neath the darkening English sky,
Bessie came, with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with lovelight sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, laid his pardon at his feet.
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and white,
Whispered, "Darling, you have saved me, curfew will not ring to-night."

*From Ringing ballads, including Curfew must not ring tonight, Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1887

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