John Lyon’s popular Mormon poetry and hymns secured his place in the hearts of many Mormon poetry lovers.
In 1853, Scottish weaver and poet John Lyon immigrated to Utah after joining the LDS church. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, to working-class parents, Lyon became a weaver’s apprentice at the age of seventeen, though he eventually was able to build up his own weaving business and then branch out into writing for local newspapers.
But it was Lyon’s poetry that made him famous. Before moving to America, a book of his poetry titled Harp of Zion, ended up selling upwards of 900 copies, with proceeds going to the LDS Church’s Perpetual Emigration Fund. Many of his poems also made it into the pages of the Millennial Star, the Mormons’ key newspaper in Great Britain. In time, he achieved near celebrity status among Mormon poetry lovers. He also worked as a theater critic and librarian. Yet he also continued to weave cloth. After arriving in Utah, Brigham Young appointed him as the Young family weaver.
Lyon’s Mormon belief remained strong throughout his life. When Brigham Young encouraged him to take a second wife in the 1850s, the Scottish bard married Carolyn Holland, a 16-years old orphan, and had nine children with her. He was also named the superintendent of the LDS Endowment House.
Lyon’s poetry had not weathered well the test of time. Most modern critics find his work sappy and unoriginal. Yet his place as a pioneering Mormon poet remains unchallenged.
Image: A woodcut of the Scottish Latter-Day Saint, John Lyon. Fred Piercy for The Harp of Zion (poetry collection), 1853. Found on Wikicommons.
See the October 1996 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission. The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society.