The vision of the Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon is, perhaps, one of the greatest visions recorded in scripture. Justifiably, there are many paintings created to celebrate it, and there’s even a hymn about the Iron Rod. But stories or poems based on this remarkable vision are virtually non-existent. Being a writer who’s always on the lookout for things not normally expressed, I’ve been attracted to creating a project that celebrates this vision for some years. But first I had to be ready and able, and that was a long path all its own.
Through the years I’ve developed a very satisfying hobby of writing, and I’ve gained a love and appreciation for the art of poetry. Because of this, I began reading the great poets, analyzing and learning from them. I especially learned to appreciate Shakespeare and John Milton, both of whom wrote in Heroic Blank Verse, which is perfect for telling stories. Anyone who’s read Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained knows they’ve been taken on an unforgettable journey with some of the most beautiful (and wordy) usage of the English language possible. This is when I realized that to retell the vision of the Tree of Life, I had to be able to write in Heroic Blank Verse, which meant more study and research . . . and practice. Ten years later I got my courage up, took a deep breath, and did my best to retell this remarkable vision as if it were happening to me – likening the scriptures unto myself, as Nephi told us to do.
For writing on a Gospel topic, I’ve discovered that putting one’s self in the role of Teacher helps you learn the topic in a fresh new way. You research; you analyze; you figure out just what it means to you. Because of this, I love the research phase almost more than the writing, because you’re on a continuous and amazing voyage of discovery. It’s true the teacher is only able to convey a fraction of what they learn. One famous author wrote that writing is a craft in which we research for three weeks to write a paragraph. It’s really true.
One of the hidden truths that unfolded while preparing to write this piece was what the scriptures mean when they use the words white and whiteness, especially in this vision. These are words many stumble over in today’s world, thinking them an offense to some of our brothers and sisters. But as I came upon them as used in the vision of the Tree of Life, the Lord brought a memory to mind of an event many years before. My wife was gone to girl’s camp one summer, and I’d taken vacation time to stay home and enjoy the week with our children. One night all five children ended up in my bed while a wild and violent lightening storm raged around us. The lightening was so bright that everything went white – the trees, the grass, the houses – no color; just a brightness that out-shined the entire visual spectrum. I realized that this brightness was what Lehi and Nephi called whiteness. After all, they were desert dwellers and had probably experienced storms such as the one we’d witnessed. God’s glory, knowledge, and truth is so bright that we cannot see the entire philosophical spectrum of mankind’s teachings – only His light. I’ve applied this thought to other passages in the Book of Mormon using the words white and whiteness, and this understanding carries through.
Writing about the Tree of Life was a voyage of discovery I would gladly repeat. I read each verse as if it were happening to me. I saw things I’d not seen before; I realized things I’d never realized. The Spirit whispered things to me that I’d never imagined. (Watch the footnotes!) My appreciation and my gratitude for this vision grew a hundred-fold.
I hope you enjoy reading about my journey!
Bruce T. Forbes
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 1
The Tree of God’s Own Love
Bruce T. Forbes
1 Nephi 8:2–4
1 Behold! I’ve dreamed a dream! In other words,
A vision I have seen – in which the love
Of God Above was plain for all to see –
Not only was it eas’ly viewed, but each
5 And ev’ry soul could come to taste, to feel,
To know themself Almighty God’s true love
For all His children as they seek their way
From dark-filled worlds to heaven’s shining heights.
I now have reason to rejoice, for what
10 I saw gives Hope unto my weary heart;
For now I know that some of my own seed
Will savèd be, while, sadly, some will choose
To turn from light and in the dark remain –
Exceeding are my fears for those who walk
15 Away from all the Love the Father hath!
The Meek Will He Guide1 –
1 Nephi 8:4–6; 11:7
At first I stood alone upon a dark
And dreary wilderness, with naught but stars
To guide me on my way. It was a wild,
Untrained, unlawful world in which I stood –
20 Like those who do not think they need to seek
For something more than just the dirt and worms
Of carnal, Natural-Man Mortality.
I prayed for rescue, and there came a man
With robes as 2white as untouched snow. I thought
25 I might have known him from some other day –
2…White or Bright? I’ve been in storms that with each lightening flash everything went white – the trees, the grass, the
houses – no color; just a brightness that out-shined the entire visual spectrum. This is the Brightness that writers, especially
in the scriptures, call Whiteness. God’s glory, knowledge, and truth is so bright that we cannot see shades nor hues.
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 2
3Perhaps I crossed his path as hunger or
A thirst, perhaps a storm, had brought him to
My door. I did not recognize him, but
He smiled and softly called my name aloud.
30 “Fear Not,” said He; “Thy cup, thy crust, thy roof
Against the storm did comfort me, and now
My Father’s love is waiting to reward
The heart that freely gave its all for me.”
I still had yet to fully understand
35 The nature of this man – This 4Man of Men
Of whom the prophets prophesied would come
5And show the way and teach the truth and give
His light to be a 6lamp unto our feet.
But I, in Faith, went with Him anyway.
Wasted Space; Wasted Lives –
1 Nephi 8:7–8
40 The white-robed Man of Men led ever on
Unto a dark and dreary waste wherein
There was at least a full moon’s light to mark
A path for our poor feet to tread. What is
A waste, you ask? ‘Tis good you ask, and I
45 Shall tell: A 7waste is unused land that could
Be used for crop or cattle, even, yes,
A village, fair – like far too many souls
Who say “Yea, Lord, I do believe,” but waste
Mortality in deeds that render them
50 Unfit to harvest as a sacrifice
Deemed worthy to present before the Lord’s
Own Mercy Seat, where far too many souls
Discover that their wasted lives are bare
Unto their God, as bare as barren wastes
55 Are to the dining hopes at end of day.
How long I wandered there I do not know –
But this I know: I will not make my life
A Waste! 8I’ll nurture those I hear are sick;
I’ll hold the weary; mourn with those who mourn.
60 The Hungry feed, the Thirsty I will quench.
3…James Montgomery’s hymn text “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”
4…John Milton’s “Paradise Regained”, Book One: “This man of men, attested Son of God”.
7…In older English a waste is a track of land not being used for anything productive – crops, cattle, or even settlement. It’s
wasted because it’s not being used productively.
8…Matthew 25:31–46; James 1:27; Mosiah 18:8
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The Prisoner I’ll visit; I’ll reform.
I’ll gift the needing widow and her child;
The orphan will a fam’ly find. And thus
A bount’ous feast I’ll bring before the Lord
65 And Judge and Master of the Mercy Seat.
“My Lord,” I cried in humbled prayer,
“See now my heart, converted by this trip
Upon such wasted space! Henceforth My heart
Shall bear the 9fruits that show that I am one
70 Who seeks at least a servant’s place to stand –
Not only at Thy table, Lord, but at
Thy Mercy Seat. According to Thine own
Great mercies, Lord, may it be so for me.”
The Tree of Life and the Fruits of Redemption –
1 Nephi 8:9–12; 11:825; 15:21
Emerging from the darkness into light,
75 There was a large and spacious field, as green
And lush as the bare wastes had been . . . a waste.
A cultivated field it was, wherein
The soul found calm and rest and nourishment –
And in the middle of the field there stood
80 A tree. But not just any tree – The Tree
Of Life itself it seemed to be. So bright
It was, that driven snow would have appeared
A dullish gray. So bright the noon-day sun
Seemed shadowed by this light!10 Beauty beyond
85 All other beauties I had ever seen;
Desirable above all other things –
Most joyous to my soul was just – the – view.
“Behold the Love of God,” said He who led
Me on; “which spreads abroad to bless the hearts
90 Of all Mankind.” And as He spoke, I saw
A Virgin, pure and innocent. Upon
Her lap a Child fair; the greatest Gift
The Father could have sent to 11show His Love –
His Son, to do what only gods could do
95 To lead, to teach, and then redeem Mankind.
I looked into the Holy Child’s eyes
And then the eyes of He who led me here,
Unto the tree – They were the very same.
10…The narrator has moved from the darkness of the stars to the light of the moon and then to the glory of the sun, recalling
the vision in Doctrine & Covenants section 76. It was a very powerful impression for me to incorporate this.
11…The children’s hymn “He Sent His Son” inspired this line.
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 4
“My Lord!” I cried as to my knees I fell.
100 My Lord and Savior took me by the arm
And raised me up. The Great Redeemer smiled,
While pointing to the fruit that was, I do
Not jest, far brighter even than the tree
That gave it birth, “Come, taste; come feast upon
105 The fruited climax of the Love of God.”
My mind’s eyes wandered to a private place,
Where One did kneel in agony to pay
The price demanded for my wrongs, that I
Might stand before the final Judgment Bar
110 With Hope that I might be found clean enough
To enter Heaven’s Gates. My mind then saw
That very One give up His mortal life
That He might be the One to open up
The way for all the Dead to rise again
115 And then return to homes above wherein
They once, before this life, did dwell. Oh, Yes!
This fruit I found desirable and sweet,
Above the taste of any fruit that could
Be offered in its place! If Heaven’s Light
120 And Knowledge had a taste – if God’s own Love
And Grace and Mercy were experienced
As if a feast – I might attempt the task
Of telling you the beauty of the fruit
Of which I did partake. And while I was
125 Caught up in 12joy for which there are no words,
I prayed that all – my wife, my children – all
Might gather to this very tree and taste
Of Heaven’s wonderous, Redeeming Love.
The Water Is Wide –
1 Nephi 8:13–18; 11:25; 12:1-16; 15:26-29
I turned my eyes this way and that,
130 So as to find where wife and children just
Might be. And in the casting of mine eyes
I spied a river flowing ’round the tree.
I turned to see from whence it came, and there,
Within the sound of voice my wife, belov’d,
135 And half our children stood together there,
Where sprang the fount that seemed to be the source
Of waters that became the steady flow
Of living water passing ’round the tree.
12…Alma 26:16; 27:15; 36:20; Helaman 5:44;
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“Take look once more,” the Master said – I looked
140 And saw that, as my fami’ly stepped into
The fountain so to bathe the dirt and dust
Of travel from themselves, that water pure
Became a stream of foul and stenchful filth
At which not one would come to quench their thirst
145 Or dare to bath, lest by the act they gain
More foulness than before. “This too reveals
The Love of God,” my Guide and Shepherd said.
“How so?” my unbelieving mind inquired.
“Because He loves his children fair, He doth
150 Provide a way to cleanse themselves before
Partaking of His Grace, His Mercy, and
His Love. And so the waters carry off
13Their griefs, their sorrows, their iniquities,
That they may come unto the feast of His
155 Redeeming Love.” I looked again and saw
The filthy river flowed across the land
As if it were a guard protecting this
Green field against the darker, eviler world.
In doing so, the river forged a deep
160 And gorge-like gulf of no small size. “The Depths
Of Hell,” my Guide declared, “to further keep
the Tree and those who feast upon its fruit
Unspotted from the world.” I called their names,
And my dear wife and those with her did hear
165 The call and came to me beside the Tree
Of Life and of Eternity.14 I turned
Again in prayerful hope to find my sons
Who were not here – I spied them near the gorge
Through which the filthy river flowed. With all
170 The Love a Father feels, I plead with them
To join us at the 15Bridegroom’s feast. They turned,
They saw, they waved. But join us they would not.
Go Not Beyond the Safety Rail. –
1 Nephi 8:19–22; 11:25; 15:23-24
Along the the filthy gorge’s rim, I spied
A path – the 16Strait and Narrow path, it was,
14…”Please note that Lehi did not leave the tree of life. He stayed spiritually with the Lord and invited his family to come
where he was to partake of the fruit.” (Elder John A. McCune, April 2020 General Conference)
15…The theme of the LORD being the Bridegroom and the church the bride runs throughout the Old and New Testaments.
16…“Straight as a ruler; Strait as a rule.” Narrow means there’s no room to wander from side to side – “For I the Lord
cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31–32). Think of the tolerance an
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 6
175 Which started at some other far-off field
Much like the one I stood upon, except
There was no tree. A multitude too large
To count was pressing forward, hoping for
Their chance to walk the path and taste of God’s
180 Own Love. A sudden panic filled my soul,
For this strait, narrow path traversed too close
To safely skirt the edge of that dark gulf
For many Pilgrims to complete the walk
In safety and without the fear of falls.
185 ‘Twas then I saw a rod – a 17safety rail;
A balustrade to help protect them on
Their way. The strongest 18iron I did spy,
As 19strong and bright and true as was the strait
and narrow path it served. “The Iron Rod,”
190 My Master did declare. “It is the Word
of God; ’twill safely guide Mankind if they
would only 20harken to His words, His Will,
His Way. If only they would do this thing,
Then perish they would not.” I looked again
195 And saw, like evil creatures in the night,
The 21darkest creeping mists I’ve ever seen
Rise up and spread their fearful reach across
The path – there was no way for Pilgrims brave
To see their way, nor could they even keep
200 In view the glor’ous site of that for which
They longed. “They walk by Faith,” my Savior said;
“Through all their mortal life.” “But surely, Lord,”
Said I, “there must be something that they may
Hold on to as they faithfully traverse
205 The darkness that to my poor eyes does seem
As filthy as the river that does carve
The awful gulf from which the mist does rise.
Yea, surely Father’s grace-filled love contains
engineer has to calculate – this eternal project allows no degree of tolerance in how far the object can move from side to
side. There is, however, the principle of Repentance for when it happens – Doctrine and Covenants 1:32.
17…As a young missionary I visited an old-fashioned zoo with an investigator family in which animals were still in concrete
and metal bar cages. Four feet out from the cages was a handrail with warning signs to not go beyond the handrail. A sixyear-
old boy ducked under the rail to get a closer look at “the pretty cat.” A very large bengal tiger reached through the bars
for him, claws extended, howling. They were very large claws. The little boy wasn’t the only one to wet himself, and he
didn’t go past the handrail again for the entire day.
18…Classical European literature claims that iron repels both good and dark magic. Just the fact that it’s made of iron gives
the Pilgrim a layer of safety against the mischief of the fair folk as well as the ill intentions of darker beings. The Pilgrim is
assured they are being guided by the Word of God without other influences confusing them.
19…reference to the Joseph L. Townsend’s hymn text “The Iron Rod.”
20…Harken means to hear and follow. Or, listen and obey. Not something we do naturally; it’s an acquired action.
21…Middle Eastern literature Lehi would have been familiar with tell of a creeping desert fog that is a wet fog infused with
sand that makes for a blindingly horrible time. And European legend tell us that evil creatures (vampires!) move up and
down canyons in the Transylvanian Alps as a fog.
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 7
A way to help them walk the path unto
210 His Tree of Life, no matter how the dread-
Filled Darkness dampens all their senses, thus
Instilling fear enough to keep them from
Progressing!” “See once more the safety rail,
As ye did name yon Iron Rod – the Word
215 Of God to all who will take hold and then
Will never let it go.” My mind did spy
The many ways God’s word disseminates –
I saw apostles, 22prophets teaching what
The Spirit gave to them to say. I saw
220 The many holy men with pen and ink
Who 23wrote the words revealed to them, that we
Might read them in our day. Greater than this,
I saw the Spir’t descending like a Dove
And whisper to the Pilgrims on their way
225 That they may feel their way along the path
While guided by the Word and Will of God,
Which calls to those who do have ears to hear
And eyes to see the safety of the Rod.
Yea, many who did seek to grasp the Rod
230 For safety did in fact catch hold of the
Beginning of the balustrade, and they
Did press their way through all the awful mists
Of deadly darkness . . . “The Temptations of
The Devil,” so my Guide told me as He
235 Did Interrupt my train of thought, “who sends
Deceiving mists to harden and lead hearts
Away from the Strait, Narrow Way and on
To broader, less exacting paths, that they
May perish in the wastes and wilderness –
240 A world away from their dear Father’s love.”
I looked and saw some stubborn Pilgrims who
Refused to grasp the offered safety rail,
But sought instead to try to reach the Tree
On their own terms – without the aid of He
245 Who was the only one who could assure
A safe arrival at the Tree. I cried
A warning as they lost their way and were
Enveloped by the dullness of the Wastes
And by the dark and lawless wilderness
250 From which I had been rescued earlier.
I turned my eyes back to the path and saw
That other, wiser Pilgrims did press on
Through all the mists while clinging to the Word
22…2 Peter 1:17
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of God – until at last they did come forth
255 And did partake of all the fruit of God’s
Own Love and Grace and Mercy, ever sweet.
But! (dramatic pause) To my horror, there were some who then
Did cast their eyes upon the ground, as if
They were ashamed! (dramatic pause) What could have shamed them so?
260 (dramatic pause) The nasty, noisy neighbors had arrived.
Nasty, Noisy Neighbors –
1 Nephi 8:26–27; 11:34-36; 12:18
I heard a noise; much like the 24noise of war . . .
Much like the noise of Man while shouting out
Their own philosophies and teachings as
If speaking in the place of God; much like
265 The mocking laughter wicked souls do make
When justifying their actions as God’s
Own light shines bright enough to show the harm
Of all their ways. So loud and winded was
The noise of war that sounded from the great
270 And spacious building hovering beyond
The hellish gulf, that it did seem to me
That it was lifted up above the ground
By all the heated air! This nightmare sky-
Born palace, filled with men and women, old
275 And young; all dressed in mankind’s best
and finest coverings, did mock and make
A jest of those who stood about the Tree
And tasted of the joy and peace that those
Who laughed and mocked would never, ever know.
280 Yes, Jealousy does breed Contempt. “What is
This menace?” I cried out; “What cloud-born fiend
Doth terrorize poor Pilgrims so?” “The Pride
And Wisdom of the World,” my Guide and 25Stay
Explained. “Inside of that 26Leviathan
285 Is ev’ry Vain Imagination that
Will carry Pilgrims so far off their course
That they may never see the light of Days
In Heaven’s courts.” “I hopeful am that it
Remains upon its own side of the great
290 Dividing gulf,” I cried. “It does,” I was
25…Henry F. Lytle’s hymn text “Abide with Me!” A stay is a support used to prop up or otherwise support something. It is
also any of the various strong ropes for steadying a ship’s mast.
26…Isaiah 27:1; research the footnotes in the LDS King James edition!
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Assured.27 “Now, heed this warning well! Do not
In any circumstance believe it is
A safe and prudent thing to hitch a ride
Within a house that has no sure and strong
295 28Foundation; 29tossed about by ev’ry wind
Of fraud-filled doctrine, craftily prepared
To take you on a breeze-blown voyage of no
Return. What thinkest thou will happen on
The day the laughter ends, and, one by one,
300 They see themselves for what they have become?”
“I think,” I did begin, “That great will be
The fall as it comes crashing down to earth
And on to darker kingdoms far below.”30
The Start of the Final Test –
1 Nephi 8:28–33
I watched as those who hung their heads in shame
305 When mocking laughter reached their ears did flee
And try to hide within the darkness that
Surrounded the bless’d field upon which stood
the Tree of life. No longer led by Light,
Their feet did trod forbidden paths until
310 They found themselves in worlds far darker than
They’d left behind to come unto the Tree.
“The Final test,” my Shepherd said, “is not
Arriving at the tree, in truth ’tis what
You DO once tasting this, the Father’s Love.”
315 Again I looked and was assured that there
Were many who did take hold and press on,
Their hands continuously on the Rod –
At length they knelt before the Tree and did
In joy partake most unashamedly.
320 31“For I am not ashamed,” they shouted at
The neighbor’s mocking laugh; “It is the pow’r
Of God unto the salvation of all
Who do believe!” I watched as Father’s spir’t
Descended on the joy-filled Unashamed,
27…Classical European literature says that Evil (vampires again) cannot cross running water, because it washes the evil
away, killing them. So those at the Tree of Life were safe from harm, as the Great and Spacious Building could never get to
them; therefore its citizens resorted to laughing and mocking those at the Tree. When all else fails, resort to Peer Pressure.
30…Something I wasn’t able to work into the poem: I pictured this great and spacious building as hovering above a sea of
shifting sands that gave no foundation or support for this building’s massive weight. The sand was so light and shifting that
it couldn’t even find a place to anchor in times of storm. See Matthew 7:24–27.
31…Romans 1:16. This is the scripture my mother always ensured was marked in our Bibles so we could find it.
Forbes / Tree of God’s Own Love / 10
325 Who then prepared to start the Final Test:
Enduring to The End; a marathon
Wherein each soul who finishes does win
A well-earned victor’s Crown and does become
An 32heir of all the Father has and is.
I Said: Go Not Beyond the Safety Rail! –
1 Nephi 8:31–35
340 Like moths unto a flame will fly are those
Who see, who hear, who sense the danger but
Will boldly barge ahead as if they are
Invincible. As I looked back along
The Path, I saw such human moths as they
345 Did let go of the safety rail and turned
To slowly feel their way beyond the rod
And to that great and spacious building just
Across the gorge that was . . . the Depths of Hell.
I wept as many found their grave within
350 The filthy river’s flow. Lost to my view,
Still others who were bound to roam upon
Strange roads that I could only guess would lead
To such a fate as those whose bodies now
Were swallowed by the river’s foul embrace.
355 However many lives were lost, there still
Were more who found their way and entered in
That hov’ring Hall of Shame. There, they joined in
To scorn and laugh at those, like me, who did
33Stand fast beside the Tree that was the Love
360 Of God. No heed did we give to their words,
For those who did, did fall away, and I
Will not so fall. My Guide and Savior turned
To us who would not leave the Tree and asked:
34“Will Ye also now go away?” “My Lord,”
365 I did exclaim as once again I knelt
Upon a knee, “To whom shall we then go?
For Thou alone doest have the words of true
Eternal Life.” I stood again and, as
He watched, I plucked just one more fruit and held
370 It out for Him to see. “The fruit recalls
To me the flesh Thou gave to conquer Death;
The juice within the fruit recalls that by
Thy blood I am washed clean.” (dramatic pause) “There cannot be
33…1Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; Alma 45:17; Doctrine & Covenants 9:14; 54:2
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Another fruit, another tree, for me.”
375 My Master smiled and turned my face to see
My children, who responded not when called
Unto the Tree, still hov’ring near, although
Outside of the Tree’s light. “There still is time,”
He whispered as He gently nudged me on.
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,
having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.
Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ,
and endure to the end,
behold, thus saith the Father, Ye shall have eternal life.
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way;
and there is none other way nor name given under heaven
whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.
And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ,
and the only and true doctrine of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
which is one God, without end.
(2 Nephi 31:20–21)