The Psalm of Nephi, or 2 Nephi 4, is Nephi's most poignant and poetic work. Already being considered a sacred hymn by way of it being a psalm, it was adapted into a Mormon Tabernacle Choir piece called "I Love the Lord" based on the hymn "Be Still My Soul." And although I've studied this chapter frequently, listened to it's musical rendition, and visited it in my own times of sorrow, I've rarely thought of the chapter as more than just Nephi having a bad day. But then I read it again.
The psalm can be easily formatted to poetic stanzas since it is written to be a sacred hymn. Once it is in stanzas though, it is amazing to watch the poetic devices emerge. As I was reading the chapter in stanzas, I noticed that Nephi repeats the beginning few words of his lines, called an anaphora, 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?
I guess Nephi would.
It suddenly dawned on me that Nephi, at about 20 to 30 years old, took the time to sit down and scratch a repeating opener (an anaphora) into metal sheets. Nephi took the time to molten the plates and show future generations that it is normal to feel inadequate, sorrowful, and even self-deprecating. Nephi took the time to write a poem so that we could see the beauty that comes from turning sorrow into self-reflection and angst into faith.
As I read the versus again and again, more poetic devices kept appearing. Apostrophes and exclamatios were everywhere. Nephi used exclamatios, or emotional exclamations, to address himself "O wretched man that I am!" and "O my heart," showing just how intensely he was feeling. The apostrophes (addressing either an inanimate object or abstract or absent being) were addressed to God, "O Lord, I have trusted in thee," showing that Nephi felt actual distance from God. Could Nephi feel distant from God, the same way I have sometimes felt? Could Nephi feel upset with himself the way I sometimes am? Nephi's desperate cries while still sacred and emotional, were becoming more and more reminiscent of my own pleas to God.
Starting to feel more similar to Nephi than different, I wasn't surprised to see him use imperatives (or command verbs) to give himself personal pep talks, just the way I have: "Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul." It was almost contagious, as though whispering the motivating words to myself louder and louder would allow me to join the rally of souls, although both he and I were alone, him in writing the words and me in reading them.
In one last glance at the chapter, feeling like I'd made a new friend, I noticed Nephi's self-reflecting rhetorical questions sprinkled through his poetry. Yes, I have bad days just like Nephi. Yes, I sometimes write poetry just like Nephi. Yes, I cry against myself and to God just like Nephi. And yes, I give myself commanding pep talks just like Nephi. But, what I do best is self-reflect. So no, I am not surprised that Nephi, too, self-reflects: "Why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, / and my flesh waste away, / and my strength slacken, / because of mine afflictions?" Nephi talks to himself like I do? Nephi self-reflects like I do? Yes, of course he does.
After all, Nephi and I really aren't that different. I mean, come on, the guy writes poetry.