This present edition of your beloved Adventist weekly paper does more than acknowledge April as national poetry month. Indeed, it focuses on and is dedicated to a literary medium with which we have enjoyed a long, distinguished, and privileged association. Poetry was very much a part of the early years of the church paper we know today as the Adventist Review. No wonder. For genuine poets were part of its editorial staff. Annie R. Smith regularly contributed her haunting and delicate verse to the magazine she served as copy editor:
“’Twas a doleful night, on Calvary’s height, when the Lamb of God was slain;
But Hope’s cheering ray, shone bright o’er the day, when he rose from the tomb again.”
“How long, O Lord, shall we watch and weep, for the rightful Heir to reign?
And the myriad saints in silence sleep, who wait thy return again?”
“O Jesus! my Savior! dear Savior come! Our hearts weary grow,
Of thy longer delay—O hasten to gather us home!”
These are lines excerpted from “The Return,” which Annie indicates that she wrote at Rochester, New York, October 17,1853. Eight days later, in the magazine’s October 25 issue, the poem would already be in print, with the notation “Lilly Dale” indicating the tune to which the words should be sung. Familiarity with that tune attests to her keen sense of how freely the mood and content of her text would travel through that tune’s meter and cadences. Her talent and yearning for Jesus’ return are still molding the Adventist soul. We still use her voice to query, “How far from home?”1 And we still draw on her inspiration to venerate our hero pioneers of enduring faith as we recall how she “saw one weary.” With her, and with them, we still exclaim and attest: “O! What can buoy the spirits up? ’Tis this alone—the blessed hope.”2
In the same issue that featured Annie’s sighs for “The Return,” another Smith employee, her brother Uriah, who would assume the paper’s editorship in 1855 and direct it intermittently for 48 years, was making his own monumental poetic contribution. The October 25 issue ran the second of what would eventually be six focused chapters of heroic couplet published between October 18 and December 20. Annie’s hopeful cheer finds its tonal contrast in the life-or-death solemnity of her brother’s approach to his subject, the Sabbath. Uriah determinedly extolls its establishment and perpetuity in such decidedly prosaic chapter titles as “Truth and Error,” “The Sabbath Instituted at Creation,” “The Sabbath a Memorial,” “The Sabbath Not Abolished,” and “Apostolic Example.” His final chapter heaps contempt on efforts to set truth aside in favor of mere tradition, and is entitled “Vain Philosophy.” Later comfort with years called days may already be foreshadowed in the poem’s overall title, as more than 4,700 iambic feet of poetry are labeled “A Word for the Sabbath.” Or Smith may simply be into modesty. By contrast with sister Annie’s consistent acknowledgment of her poems in the magazine, Uriah’s nearly 1,000 lines go unsigned for two months, until, at the end of his final chapter, two letters appear: U. S. Like sister Annie, he too still blesses poetically from the pages of our hymnal. We share his exhortation when we sing hymn no. 602: “O Brother, Be Faithful.”
Disappointingly perhaps, or reassuringly maybe, our recent poetry contest includes no entries of the dimensions of Smith’s “Word.” Respect for our judges’ time precluded it, given our lack of desire to presume upon their Christian kindness. Their distinguished expertise was for us high complement, provided as it was on an entirely voluntary basis.
Deeply affirming as we found that fact, we were also wonderfully thrilled by the numbers, quality, and breadth of the interests and themes reflected in the compositions received. Entries were judged in three categories—hymns, rhymed verse, and free verse. And the pages that follow now afford you the opportunity of perusing the works that were adjudicated as the best contributions in each of these areas. Poetic giftedness, faith in eternal truth, and the yearning to be home with Jesus are as much features of twenty-first-century Adventist poetry as they were 160 years ago.