Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sioux County History--"An Outburst of Prayer"

An estimated 12.5 trillian Rocky Mountain locusts descended on the rural Midwest from July 20 to July 30, 1874. They virtually devoured everything in swath of land that encompassed almost 200,000 square miles.

Jelle Pelmulder, Sioux County’s first school master, wrote this poem mid-onslaught, in a fragile community only four years old.

Pelmulder wrote in Dutch, in rhyming couplets. The manuscript belongs to and is available at the Sioux County Museum, Orange City.

An outburst of prayer*
at the coming of the locusts
July 17, 1874

In the northern heavens something rises
from the horizon—clouds maybe,
or smoke billowing so far up into the sky
it takes my breath away, so high,
it seems the wind has wings.

Oh, my God,
they swarm as countless
as the sand on the shores of the sea.

The fields all around,
the hopes of every farmer here,
will go up like smoke and vapor,
consumed by locusts whose appetites
will not be filled ‘til everything is gone.
To forget the sheer delight we all just felt
from lovely grains in gardens and in fields? —
Must all the work we’ve done come to nothing?
Will they take every tree, every bush?

Can you see my tears, Lord? --
will you hear my voice?
I lift my soul to you on high:
Must all of what we have be lost?

Forgive my iniquitous complaints,
but when I see the poor among us,
whose very lives stand there
in perfect rows set for slaughter,
really, Lord, must all of it go? —
gardens and fields, bushes and trees? --
Must all of what we have be lost?

Merciful Father, I’m on my knees.
That host of locusts in the sky
live and breathe at your command.
That endless cloud, that legion,
now rising between sun and land,
that sky-born plague and scourge
 is it sent, in fact, by my Father’s hand?

Nothing we devise will stand between us
and your omnipotence.
Faint and powerless,
every bit of strength we have is gone.

If in our temerity
some errant curse escapes our lips,
if you wish it so and by your hand,
we fall into the dust beneath our feet.

O Lord God, bring your mercy
to task here and now so that our thanks
may once more soar unto your throne.
Deliver us so we can praise your name.
From our knees we come before you,
in the name of your Son, our Savior:


God, our Father, spare our land, our crops,
Lest those in poverty fall to despair
When, in cold, the north winds howl.

Have mercy, oh God! have mercy.
Look down upon us and refresh us
once again with the blessed hope
of a good and healthy crop.

Please make it happen, Lord,
Our very faith is in your hands.
Show us the love you promise--
Avert the swarms above
that threaten every living thing.

We live in your hands; you alone have power
to rid us of this contagion once again
—as you did long ago in Pharaoh’s land,
when Moses stood and prayed before the roaring sea.

Teach us the trust that never ends, Lord,
the hope that rests in you alone.]

July, 1874
Sioux County, Iowa
*Ontboezeming bij jet aankomen der sprinkhanen op zondags den 19den Juli 1874.
Translated from the Dutch by Johan Hegeman. By way of this version, I've attempted to make Mr. Pelmulder's "outburst of prayer" accessible to many readers.


Doug Calsbeek said...

Wow. What a psalm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! Jelle Pelmulder was my great-great-great grandfather and I appreciate you making this bit of history accessible.