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Penning 1,000 poems shows dedication and perseverance.
Penning one hymn text that grows in popularity a century after you’re gone takes a special kind of genius.
Joel Hills Johnson scored in both those arenas.
He wrote 1,000 poems and also the words to the hymn “High on the Mountain Top,” which is in the hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And for that, he was recently given his own museum.
As a writer who enjoys seeing other writers get their due, I was pleased to see the family of JHJ go the extra mile and set his legacy in stone, literally. The “1,000 Songs Museum” was recently dedicated in Enoch, Utah, the town Johnson founded.
When you write 1,000 poems and hymn texts, it means writing one a week for 20 years. And that feat puts Johnson in the company of other tireless hymn writers.
Fanny J. Crosby, the blind poet, is said to have written 8,000 religious poems during her lifetime, including the words to “‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream” and “Behold! A Royal Army.” She wrote many poems under pen names to keep from competing with herself.
She was Fanny J. Crosby, alias Grace J. Frances, Lizzie Edwards, Ella Dale, Maud Marrior, Leah Carlton and more than 100 other names.
Of course, as I said, writing a lot of poetry is one thing. Writing something that stays in the hearts and minds of people as a living, breathing thing is something else.
Once, while in college, I read about a poet who published a book called “100 Million Poems.” Each line of every poem was published on a separate strip of paper. Each line was interchangeable with every other line in the entire book. And each time you juggled a line or two, it created a “new” poem. You theoretically could create 100 million poems.
I read a few of those poems. Yet nothing I saw was nearly as memorable as the opening verse of “High on the Mountain Top” by Joel Hills Johnson.
And he was no “one hit wonder.” Johnson also has another text in our current hymnbook, “The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone,” a hymn about temple work. The final verse reads:
Now, oh ye Saints, rejoice today
That you can saviors be
Of all your dead who will obey
The gospel and be free.
Then let us rise without restraint
And act for those we love,
For they are giving their consent
And wait for us to move.
That’s not the kind of writing that will set the footlights lights ablaze on the Great White Way. The words aren’t provocative or saucy enough.
They are, however, the kind of heartfelt, bold, spirit-soaked words that can, if you’re fortunate, get a museum named after you in Enoch, Utah.
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