John Lyon (poet)

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John Lyon (poet)
Born (1803-03-04)4 March 1803
Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
present-day Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died 28 November 1889(1889-11-28) (aged 86)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory
present-day Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Occupation Poet, hymn writer, journalist, weaver
Nationality Scottish
Ethnicity Scottish
Notable works "The Apostate", "The Prophet"


John Lyon (4 March 1803, Glasgow – 28 November 1889) was a 19th-century Scottish Latter Day Saint poet and hymn writer.


Born into a poor and illiterate family in Glasgow, Lyon became an apprentice weaver at age nine. In adulthood, he moved to Kilmarnock, where he met and married Janet Thomson.

In the 1830s, he became involved with the Baptist church, but he left them and in March 1844, he was baptised into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Lyon has been described as the best Mormon poet of the 19th century, but he only learned to read in 1828, at the age of 25. By the 1840s, he had worked for seven papers in Ayrshire, and assisted in the production of several poetry anthologies of other people's work.

As a Mormon convert he was atypical, and was described as a rather irreverent "Saul among the prophets".[citation needed]

He had over a dozen children, and was frequently visited in Kilmarnock by Mormon dignitaries who had travelled to Scotland. Amongst these were Levi Richards, Samuel W. Richards and Franklin D. Richards. And on one such visit, on 1 December 1847, the Richards brothers travelled with Lyon to Robert Burns' birthplace in Alloway.

Lyons served a three-year mission in Worcester, England, and later emigrated to Utah Territory. In 1872, Wilford Woodruff ordained him to be a patriarch in the LDS Church.


After his conversion to Mormonism, Lyon found it difficult to find secular publishers. On the other hand, the LDS Church newspaper Millennial Star published copious amounts of work by what they described as "The Scottish Bard". His debut in Millennial Star was on 15 November 1845, when it published his poem "Man". The Star would publish over forty more of his poems. Writing in January 1849, Orson Spencer said to Orson Pratt that:

"Amongst the worth of contributors to the Star, I shall not be deemed invidious to name, distinctly and prominently, our highly esteemed brethren Elders Lyon and Mills. Their genius in the poetic department and the devotedness of their productions to the service of God and his people deserve the fostering care of all the Saints who love the high praise of God in sacred and commemorative songs. The excellent songs and hymns of our poets preach with unmistakable melody and power."

A hundred and five of his poems were collected in The Harp of Zion, which was published in a run of 5148, and was one of the first complete books of poetry by a Mormon writer. These poems varied from devotional poems, to epics such as "The Apostate" and light-hearted works in Lowland Scots such as "Elegy on Wee Hughie", which was about an expired canary:

"But he'll ne'er wake us mair,

"For Hughie is deid"

Some of his poetry was sung to such traditional Scottish tunes as "The Lass o' Glenshee". An example of his stronger and more vitriolic work is "The Apostate":

"I knew him, ere the roots of bitterness

"Had grown to putrid cancer in his soul.
"Then Revelation's light gleamed o'er his mind
"In strange fantastic dreams of future bliss,
"He saw the dawn, and this was quite enough

"For Speculation's visionary claim"

In the end, The Harp of Zion sold around 2000 copies, and Lyon did not receive the profits from the work, since that was all donated to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which aimed to help converts migrate to Utah Territory.

Missionary work[edit]

Lyon was a Mormon missionary between 1849 and 1853, becoming conference president in Worcester in England. During this period he walked nearly five and a half thousand miles, baptised 360 people, and wrote 1000 letters. In 1849, he kept a missionary journal of his work.

After his time in Worcester, he became a conference president in Glasgow.

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