Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Psalm of Nephi: Faith-filled angst and sorrowful self-reflection

Photo courtesy of LDS Media Library
I have always loved 2 Nephi 4, or the Psalm of Nephi. Being his most poignant and poetic work, I rarely thought of the chapter as more than just Nephi having a bad day. But then I read it again.

If the psalm is formatted to poetic stanzas, it is amazing to watch the poetic devices jump out at you. As I was reading I noticed that Nephi repeats the beginning few words of his lines all the time. For example "he hath" in versus 20 to 23, or "O Lord" in versus 30 to 34. Nephi uses anaphoras like I do? I was surprised. I began to wonder what type of man would use poetic device to self-reflect, to express sorrow, to show his faith and angst simultaneously? What type of man would write devotional poetry at all? Well, I guess Nephi would. About 20 to 30 years old, Nephi would take the time to sit down and scratch into metal sheets a repeating opener (an anaphora). Nephi would take the time to molten the plates so that he could vent to future generations, God, and anyone else a frustrated human being likes to talk to when they wax poetic. Nephi would.

As I read the versus again and again, more poetic devices kept appearing. Apostrophes to himself "O wretched man that I am!" and "O my heart," and apostrophes to God, "O Lord, I have trusted in thee."  It became more sacred than ever before to listen in on the desperate cries of a emotion-stricken man. Imperatives were acting as commanding personal pep talks: "Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul." It became more motivating to whisper the words to myself louder and louder, like I could join the rally of souls, although both he and I were alone, him in writing them and me in reading them. Rhetorical questions were sprinkled through his poetry, showing his self-reflection: "Why should my heart weep and y soul linger in the valley of sorrow, / and my flesh waste away, / and my strength slacken, / because of mine afflictions?" Nephi talks to himself? He self reflects? Heck yeah, he does.

After all, so do I. And I guess Nephi and I aren't really that different. I mean really. The guy writes poetry. 


  1. I love that you focus on poetry--I feel like it is such a personal and vulnerable way to write. Nephi wrote it, having been told the plates would be shared with generations of people he would never meet in his lifetime. Yet he still shared a part of himself, a very deep part of his soul with us. And thank goodness he did.

  2. Love how you put this. Just curious, if you were in charge of the Reader's Edition of the Book of Mormon, what stanza-fying (yes, I'm sure that's word) would you change or leave the same in your edition?

  3. This was so awesome! I loved your thoughts. I totally agree that writing poetry can show our self reflection. I hate writing poetry but I think it would be easier for me if i thought is as more of a self reflection.