John Lyon (poet)

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John Lyon
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.


Early Years[edit]

John Lyon was born to Thomas Lyon and Janet McArthur, a poor and illiterate family in the slums of Glasgow. He would be the only child of Thomas and Janet's four children to live to adulthood. [1] Thomas' sister Margaret, who had lost all of her children, adopted five-year-old John in order to alleviate some of her brother's monetary expenses. After less than a year, young Lyon returned to Glasgow after the passing of Margaret's wealthy husband. A year or so later, his father passed away.[2] :28-30

At age eight, Lyon began attending school and did so for only a year and a half. That was the extent of his formal childhood schooling. [2]:31 Young Lyon became an apprentice to an accomplished weaver at age nine (1812). That same year the weaving industry struggled immensely, but Lyon kept at his seven-year apprenticeship. By the time he was twelve, the industry had plummeted enough that young Lyon's shop master quit his trade and granted freedom to Lyon and the rest of his apprentices. He then began pursuing a career in spinning, but after three years in his new apprenticeship, his new shop master released all of his apprentices as had occurred previously. [2]:44

Marriage and Family[edit]

Lyon continued to pursue a career in weaving and set-out (at age seventeen) to live on his own because his mother was remarried and he did not want to be a part of their new life. [2]:34,43 In 1824 he moved to Kilmarnock where he had great success in the weaving industry. It is there that he met sixteen year old Janet Thomson. They were married in the Presbyterian church on February 23, 1826 and in September their first child, Thomas, was born. [2]:61-63 The couple had a total of eleven children, seven of which lived to adulthood.[2]:65 Lyon's lack of schooling as a child pushed him to make sure that his children were well-educated. His children were weavers as he was, but they learned to read and write at an early age.[2]:90

Beginning of Writing Career[edit]

In 1827, Lyon joined an intellectual fraternity where each member would compose a topic to be discussed. At this point in time, Lyon knew very little about reading and writing. Even with such disadvantages, the other members were so intrigued by Lyon's contributions that he was inspired to better his literary skills. After years of study, practice, and drafts, he eventually began publishing his written works in local newspapers and would continue doing so for the next eighteen years. As was customary during this time period, many of Lyons first works were written and published anonymously in order to protect the author from any form of harassment or blame. [2]:66-69 During his writing career in Scotland he wrote for eight known newspapers including The Ayr Advertiser, The Kilmarnock Chronicle, The Witness.[2]:72 He mainly wrote for newspapers in Aryshire, but in 1834 the first newspapers in Kilmarnock were organized. Because of differences in opinion, Lyon left the papers in Kilmarnock and began writing for more religiously-minded papers.

Religious Affiliations[edit]

As a child Lyon was familiar with the Bible and introduced it to his children at an early age.[2]:90 He and his wife had no real affiliations with a specific church or congregation during the early years of their marriage.[2]:85

Many religious reforms occurred in Scotland during the 1830s and 1840s. The Church of Scotland, which was Presbyterian, was challenged and many new religious freedoms were granted during this time.[2]:92 In 1837, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) arrived in England and soon after made their way to Scotland. The missionary William Gibson, went to preach in Kilmarnock where he became good friends with Lyon. After reading The Book of Mormon, attending religious sermons, and pondering what he had learned, Lyon was baptized on May 30, 1844.[2]:94-96

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".[3]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lyon, T. Edgar (1989). John Lyon : the life of a pioneer poet. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. p. 1. ISBN 0-88494-708-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lyon, T. Edgar (1989). John Lyon : the life of a pioneer poet. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. ISBN 0-88494-708-4. 
  3. ^ Lyon, Thomas (1985). "John Lyon: Poet for the Lord". BYU Religious Studies Center. ISBN 0-8849-4565-0. Retrieved 20 January 2016. 

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