Article of the
Week Emma Lou Thayne and the Art of Peace
Casualene Meyer BYU Studies update 29 October 2014
This daily feature is the introduction to a full article
published in our newest issue, 53:3, by Casualene R. Meyer.
Anyone who has been spiritually nourished by the hymn "Where Can I Turn
for Peace" knows something of the poetry of Emma Lou Warner Thayne.
Thayne, now in her ninetieth year, has fostered peace in fourteen books
of prose and poetry as well as in her public service, her antinuclear
activism, and her family and personal relationships. The interview that
follows is a condensed and blended version of conversations that
occurred on September 9, 11, 14, 25, and 29, 2013; November 14, 2013;
February 20 and 22, 2014; and March 1, 2014.
Meyer: We begin with "Where Can I Turn for Peace," perhaps your
best-known work. You explain in great detail the emotional situation
that hymn responds to in the book you coauthored with your daughter
Becky, Hope and Recovery: A Mother-Daughter Story about Anorexia
Nervosa, Bulimia, and Manic Depression. Will you briefly describe
the hymn's genesis for BYU Studies Quarterly readers?
Thayne: I was desperate. I felt there wasn't going to be any life
for our Becky; she was terribly sick, suffering from bipolar and severe
eating disorders. She was in the hospital, and I was on the general
board of the Young Women [Mutual Improvement Association, or YWMIA].
Every year the YWMIA held a June conference; teachers came from all over
the world, and the board presented an elaborate program to introduce the
activities and curriculum for the coming year. My friend Joleen Meredith
and I, both of us serving on the Laurel Committee, had written other
songs for this program; she was the musician, and I was the lyricist.
The program was just days away, and we needed a finale. I had always
wanted to write a hymn, and she had too. Because of Becky's illness, I
had been desperately asking myself, "Where can I turn for peace?" and
praying for answers for what I didn't understand. Actually, once I began
the hymn, it was easy for me to write. Within an hour, I had my three
verses and called Joleen. She had a history of depression in her family,
so she understood exactly what I was talking about. As I read a line,
she composed a line; this was over the phone. By noon we had our hymn.
We didn't change anything.