In a Single Bound

One thing I love about General Conference is being able to read excerpts of inspired poems written by non-member authors who nevertheless were moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

In the October 1976 conference, Elder William H. Bennett quoted from the poet Josiah Gilbert Holland to speak about the need to press forward unto perfection by our daily efforts. Holland was a favored poet around this period, as this poem called Gradatim and another poem entitled God, Give us Men, were frequently quoted by General Authorities.  (According to the Corpus of LDS General Conferences, God, give us men was quoted 17 times from 1912-1974, while Gradatim was quoted at least 6 times in addition to this talk).

I was really moved by the full text:

GRADATIM

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
But we build the ladder by which we rise
From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit round by round.

I count this thing to be grandly true:
That a noble deed is a step toward God,
Lifting the soul from the common clod
To a purer air and a broader view.

We rise by the things that are under feet;
By what we have mastered of good and gain;
By the pride deposed and the passion slain,
And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
When the morning calls us to life and light,
But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, we pray,
And we think that we mount the air on wings
Beyond the recall of sensual things,
While our feet still cling to the heavy clay.

Wings for the angels, but feet for men!
We may borrow the wings to find the way —
We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
But we build the ladder by which we rise
From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit, round by round.
Josiah Gilbert Holland

 

I especially loved a portion of the poem that was not quoted by Elder Bennett but that really fit his theme well:

Wings for the angels, but feet for men!
We may borrow the wings to find the way —
We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

I love the poetic usage of the theme of wings as a metaphor for our natural desire to soar above our mortal and frail imperfections. I love the image of ladders drawn from Jacob’s ladder, suggesting a smooth and eternal climb.

In our moments of spiritual uplift, we feel like we have angels wings. And through revelation, dreams, or temple worship, we feel like we ascend up a smooth ladder up to heaven. And then, we leave the temple or step back to reality.  Our weak and carnal nature reasserts ourselves.  We wake up on an uncomfortable pillar of stone.  And then we have to go to work and build our own imperfect path through small and simple steps.

This poem sirs up for me a desire to do better at achieving angelic lift more frequently. I know that I need to be lifted on angel wings and climb up the celestial ladder more frequently in order to be more fully guided as I attempt to build my own ladder.

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