Articles/Essays – Volume 49, No. 3
Eight Visions of the First
Derived from Joseph Smith Jr.’s four accounts of the First Vision
And how shall I know it?
In the 16th year at about the age of twelve
I was about at this time, in my fifteenth year,
an obscure boy of no consequence
of a little over fourteen years of age.
My mind seriously impressed
with the glorious luminary of the earth
rolling in majesty through its courses
and I stood—
a man walking forth upon the face
I discovered all important concern,
convinced of my sin and feeling to mourn,
found I did not come unto the summum bonum
of perfection. My heart exclaimed,
“Well hath the wise man said!”
I knew not who was right.
The beast of field, fowls of heaven,
fish of waters;
are they all together wrong?
Strength and beauty wrought up in my mind.
I considered upon these
in their bounds
a power and intelligence so exceeding great
that maketh and bindeth,
spirit and truth.
I seek such to worship.
My mind called to great feelings,
a deep and pungent
somewhat partial to believing.
I felt desire in the midst of this war—
so great the tumult it was impossible
for a person
young as I was
and so unacquainted with men and things
to come to any certain
I often said to myself, what is to be done?
I began to reflect upon the importance
aloof. At length I discover
I must remain in darkness
and confusion or else.
Could God be believing,
as if author of a church?
Being thus perplexed
in mind, I most desired
to call out amidst my anxieties—
retired to the silent
woods to make
Kneeled down on the morning
of a beautiful day
in a secret previously
early and began
a fruitless attempt.
In other words,
for the first time with fixed determination,
having looked around—
my swollen tongue in my mouth
finding myself alone.
There was none else.
To whom could I go?
Which is it?
behind me a noise like some person
but could not draw nearer
I sprung up but saw no thing
to seize upon,
could not speak
overcome and astonishing—
my tongue thick
as if doomed in that
by some enemy of destruction
I had never before felt,
ready to sink
to the power of despair and abandon.
To whom if any
believing to obtain
and he spake
My mouth opened, and liberated
I cried my cry:
in a brilliant wilderness of light,
the world gracefully taken
away in a pillar
like flame in the air, yet nothing
And a personage, come quickly
another in the cloud
all draw near me,
many whose brightness defy all glory
And receiving, I cannot write,
in the midst of unspeakable ungodliness,
resembling a promise
eclipsed the glory of my heart above me
with a likeness.
I, my glorious spirit,
And he, “I am.”
lying on my back, I came to
find myself in the 16th year
of my 14 years of age,
early in the spring
looking into the sun.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There are differences in this poem between the web version and the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, along with reading the poetry as designed by the poet, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
2016: Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen, “Eight Visions of the First” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 49 No. 3 (2016): 151–155.
Shiffler-Olsen turns Joseph Smtih’s first-person First Vision accounts into poetry.