What was Hugh Nibley’s first published work? A treatise on the Book of Mormon? An article about the Ancient State? Hugh’s bibliography and registry cites a poem called “On Birthdays,” which he wrote for his grandmother in 1926 a few days after turning sixteen. Despite swearing his grandmother to secrecy, the poem found its way to Hugh’s parents and from there to the pages of the Church’s Improvement Era magazine. ((Hugh Nibley, “Of Birthdays,” Improvement Era 29/8 (June 1926): 743. For background, see Boyd J. Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2002), 55.))
In honor of the 104th anniversary of Hugh’s birth (March 27, 1910), here is “Of Birthdays”: The text of “Of Birthdays” by Hugh Nibley:
Sun, why do you hurry?
Why do you clear at one mad bound
The frail, sweet mist;
And, bursting once in shouting radiance,
Route out the lingering muses of the night?
Why do you scud and slither up your path
So easily and so cruelly?
Oh, dumb, relentless sun,
Is it I who goad you?
I would fight you, hold you—
Tie you with sullen weights—dream-wrought and terrible.
Oh, grant me but a little moment still,
Before you lash your noon light on the world:
Before you totter for that awful leap
That flings you from the zenith, leaving night—
But stay: your brassy breath is fading now!
Oh, blind sun, dazzled by your own thin light!
See now already how you call up little shadows—
Blue and low, but feeling—gathering.
They frighten me, they whisper as they creep;
Sweet Sun, be kind and spare us but an hour.
The air is purple now the wind is waiting
A long sigh from the west.
* * * * *
Forgive me. Sun,
I did forget the glory of thy setting!
Funny thing, though, Nibley’s first publication was actually a sketch he made about six years earlier which appeared in the Church’s Juvenile Instructor: ((Juvenile Instructor 56/1 (January 1921): 49. See “Hugh Nibley’s First Published Work (At Age Ten),” lifeongoldplates.com, September 10, 2009.))
It’s impossible to overestimate the impact Hugh Nibley has made in Latter-day Saint study of the Book of Mormon, not to mention all of the other matters he discussed in his many lectures, books, articles, and other writings. It also goes without saying that his work was seminal to the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, which has since been absorbed into the Maxwell Institute’s Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. If you’d like to spend a little time remembering Hugh on his birthday you might choose something from among the nineteen books (and counting), twelve book chapters, and over sixty journal articles and transcripts written by Hugh which we provide free access to here. Or you might catch a lecture or two from Nibley’s 1986 Pearl of Great Price Lecture Series on our YouTube channel. Hughnibley.net is another site with some great Niblorabilia.
In the coming months we’ll have an exciting announcement to make about our forthcoming Hugh Nibley Library, an online archive that will feature Nibley treasures unseen and untold.
Happy Birthday, Hugh!