1 of 7
Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
President Thomas S. Monson was a prophet-leader of the LDS church for nearly 10 years and was one of the longest-serving apostles in Mormon history, having spent more than three decades in the First Presidency and a total of 54 years as an apostle.

SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday night, Thomas S. Monson, 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away in his home at age 90.

Monson was a prophet-leader of the LDS church for nearly 10 years and was one of the longest-serving apostles in Mormon history, according to the Deseret News, having spent more than three decades in the First Presidency and a total of 54 years as an apostle.

In addition to his deep love of scripture, Monson was also a lifelong reader of great literary works, often using themes and stories from novels, poetry and musicals to express his faith and offer counsel to members of the church. Here’s a list of 25 literary works Monson referenced in talks and devotionals throughout his devoted service for the church. Most of these works were compiled from a list of BYU speeches and a Goodreads list.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson stops and smiles for some photos after the Sunday morning session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011. On Jan. 2, 2018, Monson passed away in his Salt Lake City home at age 90.

"My Kingdom," by Louisa May Alcott

I like the words of Louisa May Alcott, author of that all-time classic "Little Women," who wrote:

I do not ask for any crown but that which all may win; Nor try to conquer any world except the one within.

— March 1996, LDS First Presidency Message, "Formula for Success"

"Light Shining Out of Darkness," by William Cowper

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

. . .

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

This testimony I bear to you, this witness I give unto you, that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that he is our Elder Brother, he is our Redeemer, he is our Savior, and he is the author of your great expectations.

— Jan. 11, 2009, BYU Devotional, "Great Expectations"

"A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens

London Stereoscopic Company
Charles Dickens.

My family knows that just before Christmas I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke — even the Christmas story. This will be followed by a reading of "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens and, lastly, rereading "The Mansion," by Henry Van Dyke.

I always must wipe my eyes when reading these inspired writings. They touch my inner soul and bring to me the Spirit of our Savior … During the course of the night before Christmas, Scrooge is shown what he once had in his life, what he has in the present and what his life will be if he remains on the path he has thus far chosen. He is able to recognize the error of his ways. He learns that happiness can come to us if we will forget self and worldly gain, concentrating instead on helping others and learning to embrace the love of family and friends. … This touching account never fails to inspire me.

— December 2011, LDS Christmas Devotional, "Because He Came"

"A Tale of Two Cities," by Charles Dickens

Perhaps the renowned author Charles Dickens best described our day when he spoke of a period over two centuries ago. His classic "A Tale of Two Cities" begins:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

This is your world. The future is in your hands. The outcome is up to you. The way to exaltation is not a freeway featuring unlimited vision, unrestricted speeds and untested skills. Rather, it is known by many forks and turnings, sharp curves, and controlled speeds. … Fortunately, the Master Highway Builder, even our Heavenly Father, has provided a road map showing the route to follow. He has placed markers along the way to guide you to your destination.

— Nov. 6, 2005, BYU Devotional, "Decisions Determine Destiny"

"Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens

Recently I reread an old favorite of mine by Charles Dickens entitled "Great Expectations." You who have read this classic will recall that Dickens speaks of a young boy by the name of Philip Pirrip, more commonly known as Pip. Little Pip was an orphan who could not remember ever having seen his mother or his father. He had all the desires of a boy. He wished with all his heart that he were a scholar. He wished that he were a gentleman. He wished that he were less ignorant. Yet all of his ambitions and all of his hopes seemed doomed to failure until one day a London lawyer by the name of Jaggers approached little Pip and told him that an unknown benefactor had bequeathed a fortune to him. Then that lawyer said that little Pip was "a young fellow of great expectations."

Today, as I contemplate who you are and what you are, who you may become and what you may become, I say to you, as that lawyer said about Pip, you have great expectations — not as the result of an unknown benefactor, but as the result of a known benefactor — even our Heavenly Father — and great things are expected of you.

— Jan. 11, 2009, BYU Devotional, "Great Expectations"

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson assists his wife, Frances, out of the Conference Center.

"Of the Pythagorean Philosophy," by Ovid in "Metamorphoses," translated by John Dryden

Avoid the detours which will deprive you of your celestial reward. You can recognize them if you will. They may be labeled "Oh, just this once won’t matter" or "My parents are so old-fashioned."

Bad habits also can be such pitfalls. At first, we could break them if we would. Later, we would break them if we could. John Dryden, an influential English poet and playwright of the 17th century, wrote:

Ill habits gather by unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

Good habits, on the other hand, are the soul’s muscles. The more you use them, the stronger they grow.

— BYU Devotional, Jan. 11, 2009, “Great Expectations

"My Life and Work," by Henry Ford and Samuel Crowther

Your efforts in school will have a notable effect on your opportunities after you leave school. As you struggle for that grade point average, don’t overlook the importance of really learning to think. Henry Ford, the great industrialist, said:

An educated man is not one whose memory is trained to carry a few dates in history — he is one who can accomplish things. A man who cannot think is not an educated man however many college degrees he may have acquired. Thinking is the hardest work any one can do — which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers.

— Jan. 11, 2009, BYU Devotional, “Great Expectations

"God Knows," by Minnie Louise Haskins

Your future is bright. It is challenging. It awaits you. Do not venture forth alone. Minnie Louise Haskins counseled:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way."

Safe journey, my beloved friends, as you glance backward, look heavenward, reach outward and press onward and find your way safely home again.

— Nov. 13, 2007, BYU Devotional, “Guideposts for Life’s Journey

Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
President Thomas S. Monson was a prophet-leader of the LDS church for nearly 10 years and was one of the longest-serving apostles in Mormon history, having spent more than three decades in the First Presidency and a total of 54 years as an apostle.

“The Great Stone Face,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

We tend to become like those whom we admire. Just as in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic account "The Great Stone Face," we adopt the mannerisms, the attitudes, even the conduct of those whom we admire — and they are usually our friends. Associate with those who, like you, are planning not for temporary convenience, shallow goals or narrow ambition but rather for those things that matter most — even eternal objectives.

— Nov. 6, 2005, BYU Devotional, "Decisions Determine Destiny"

"It's Up to You," by Clinton T. Howell

You are the one who has to decide

Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside ...

Whether you’ll strive for the goal that’s afar

Or just be content to stay where you are.

— Feb. 6, 1977, BYU Devotional, “Decisions

“Camelot,” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

My thoughts turned to the musical play "Camelot." King Arthur, in his dream of a better world, an ideal relationship one with another, said, as he envisioned the purpose of the Round Table, “Violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness.”

— April 2001, LDS General Conference, “Compassion

Many of you are familiar with the play "Camelot." I’d like to share with you one of my favorite lines from this production. As the difficulties among King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere deepen, King Arthur cautions, “We must not let our passions destroy our dreams.” This plea I would leave with you tonight. Do not let your passions destroy your dreams. Withstand temptation.

— April 2005, LDS General Conference, “Be Thou An Example

"Morituri Salutamus," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "The Complete Works of Longfellow"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is seen in this undated Collections of Maine Historical Society photo. Longfellow, arguably the most beloved literary figure in 19th century America, has left his mark in Portland, Maine, the city where he was born on Feb. 27, 1807. Because of that connection, the Maine Historical Society is hosting a 200th birthday celebration Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007, that kicks off a year of bicentennial activities. (AP Photo/Collections of Maine Historical Society) \*\*NO SALES\*\*

As I think of President McKay, I think of one of his favorite passages from the literary giants of the world, even from Longfellow, when he described you.

How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams

With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!

Book of Beginnings, Story without End,

Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!

— Feb. 6, 1977, BYU Devotional, “Decisions

"Stick to Your Task," in "Best-loved Poems of the LDS People," edited by Jack M. Lyon

I love the simple wisdom found in this poem by an unknown author. I don’t think it’s a literary masterpiece, but you can understand it.

Stick to your task till it sticks to you;

Beginners are many, but enders are few.

Honor, power, place and praise

Will come, in time, to the one who stays.

Stick to your task till it sticks to you;

Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it too;

For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile

Will come life’s victories, after awhile.

An attitude of work results in the capacity to make continuous effort toward the accomplishment of a given goal.

— Jan. 11, 2009, BYU Devotional, “Great Expectations

“Columbus,” by Joaquin Miller

Follow the example of Christopher Columbus. Take a leaf out of the log of his journal on his first voyage. Day after day, as they hoped to find land and never found it, he wrote simply, “This day we sailed on.” Perseverance will pay rich rewards.

— Jan. 11, 2009, BYU Devotional, “Great Expectations

"Commentary on Euclid," by Proclus

There is a fable told about Euclid and Pharaoh and geometry. It is said that Pharaoh, entranced by some of the explanations and demonstrations of Euclid, wished to learn geometry, and Euclid undertook to teach him. He studied for a brief period and then called in Euclid and said the process was too slow for him. He was a Pharaoh; there must be a shorter road. He did not want to spend all his time to learn geometry. Then Euclid gave voice to this great truth. Said he to his Majesty, “There is no royal road to geometry."

My young friends, there is no royal road to salvation and exaltation. There is no royal road to success in any endeavor. The A grade is the result of each theme, each quiz, each class, each examination, each term paper. So each heartfelt prayer, each church meeting attended, each worthy friend, each righteous decision, each act of service performed all precede that goal of eternal life.

— Nov. 6, 2005 BYU Devotional, “Decisions Determine Destiny

"Henry VIII," by William Shakespeare

Thomas Clerk
William Shakespeare. Engraving on steel, 1841.

In Shakespeare’s "King Henry VIII," Cardinal Wolsey bemoans his fate. Shorn of his power, deserted by his friends, he cries out: “Had I but served my God with half the zeal / I served my king, he would not in mine age / Have left me naked to my enemies.”

The sweetness of success had turned into the bitter wormwood of disappointment and defeat.

— September 1993, Ensign, “Preparation Precedes Performance

“Bag of Tools,” by R.L. Sharpe

Isn’t it strange

That …

… common people

Like you and me

Are builders for eternity?

— Feb. 6, 1977, BYU Devotional “Decisions

"Fiddler on the Roof," by Joseph Stein

One of the most popular musicals of our time is "Fiddler on the Roof," by Joseph Stein.

The gaiety of the dance, the rhythm of the music, the excellence of the acting all fade in significance when Tevye, the father, speaks what to me becomes the message of the musical. He gathers his lovely daughters to his side and, in the simplicity of his peasant surroundings, counsels them as they prepare for their future. “Remember, in Anatevka each one of you knows who she is and what God expects her to become.”

Contemplating our earthly life, could not we well consider Tevye’s statement and respond, “Here, each one of you knows who she is and what God expects her to become.”

— May 1995, General Young Women's Meeting, LDS General Conference, "A Time to Choose"

"Treasure Island," by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was a boy, I enjoyed reading "Treasure Island," by Robert Louis Stevenson. I also saw adventure movies where several individuals had separate pieces of a well-worn map which led the way to buried treasure if only the pieces could be found and put together. … At another time and in a different setting, the Savior of the world spoke of treasure. In his Sermon on the Mount … the promised reward was not a treasure of ivory, gold or silver. Neither did it consist of acres of land or a portfolio of stocks and bonds. The Master spoke of riches within the grasp of all — even joy unspeakable here and eternal happiness hereafter.

Today I have chosen to provide the three pieces of your treasure map to guide you to your eternal happiness. They are:

  1. Learn from the past.
  2. Prepare for the future.
  3. Live in the present.

— May 2003, Liahona, "In Search of Treasure"

Ken Smaellie
President Thomas S. Monson in Germany.

“Idylls of the King,” Alfred Tennyson

As part of my message, I explained to Mrs. Patton that such knowledge would sustain her in her heartache — that she would never be in the tragic situation of the disbeliever who, having lost a son, was heard to say as she watched the casket lowered into mother earth: “Goodbye, my boy. Goodbye forever.” Rather, with head erect, courage undaunted and faith unwavering, she could lift her eyes as she looked beyond the gently breaking waves of the blue Pacific and whisper, “Goodbye, Arthur, my precious son. Goodbye — until we meet again.”

I quoted the words of Tennyson, as though spoken to her by Arthur:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea, …

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the bar.

— October 2007, LDS General Conference, “Mrs. Patton — The Story Continues

“The Rising Sun,” by John Toland

A review of the past can be helpful — that is, if we learn from the mistakes and follies of those who have gone before, and if we do not repeat them. John Toland, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, in summing up his monumental work "The Rising Sun," declared:

I have done my utmost to let the events speak for themselves, and if any conclusion was reached, it was that there are no simple lessons in history, that it is human nature that repeats itself, not history.

— Nov. 13, 2007, BYU Devotional, “Guideposts for Life’s Journey

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain

AP
In this undated portrait released by The Mark Twain House & Museum, author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens is shown. (AP Photo/The Mark Twain House & Museum)

Let us turn to a favorite of every boy — even Huckleberry Finn — as he, through the pen of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, taught us a lesson. Forgive the English, but Huckleberry Finn is talking:

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing … but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and he knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.

— September 1993, Ensign, “Preparation Precedes Performance

"The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier," by John Greenleaf Whittier

A lovely lady who has since passed away visited with me one day and unexpectedly recounted some regrets. She spoke of an incident which had taken place many years earlier and involved a neighboring farmer, once a good friend but with whom she and her husband had disagreed on multiple occasions. One day, the farmer asked if he could take a shortcut across her property to reach his own acreage. At this point she paused in her narrative to me and, with a tremor in her voice, said, “Brother Monson, I didn’t let him cross our property then or ever but required him to take the long way around on foot to reach his property. I was wrong, and I regret it. He’s gone now, but oh, I wish I could say to him, ‘I’m so sorry.’ How I wish I had a second chance to be kind.”

As I listened to her, there came to my mind the doleful observation of John Greenleaf Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

Brothers and sisters, as we treat others with love and kind consideration, we will avoid such regrets.

— April 2014, LDS General Conference, “Love — The Essence of the Gospel

"The Winds of Fate,” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We have the opportunity to choose. I think an awareness of this truth prompted Ella Wheeler Wilcox to pen the lines:

One ship drives east, and another west,

With the self-same winds that blow.

’Tis the set of the sail, and not the gale,

Which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,

As we journey along through life;

’Tis the set of the soul that decides the goal,

And not the calm or the strife.

We can choose our future.

I made a few resolutions at the commencement of this new year. I’d like to share them with you, hoping that you, too, will join in making the same choices, the same resolutions.

First in 1973, I will listen. Second, I will learn. Third, I will labor. And fourth, I will love. Four words beginning with the letter l, but four words which can well determine our destiny.

— Jan. 16, 1973, BYU Devotional, "A Time to Choose"

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson and Eldred G. Smith laugh as they talk as President Monson pays a visit to Smith on his 105th birthday at the Smith's home Jan. 9, 2012.

“Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder

7 comments on this story

Some of you may be familiar with Thornton Wilder’s classic drama "Our Town." If you are, you will remember the town of Grover’s Corners, where the story takes place. In the play, Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and we read of the lonely grief of her young husband, George, left with their 4-year-old son. Emily does not wish to rest in peace; she wants to experience again the joys of her life. She is granted the privilege of returning to Earth and reliving her 12th birthday. At first, it is exciting to be young again, but the excitement wears off quickly. The day holds no joy now that Emily knows what is in store for the future. It is unbearably painful to realize how unaware she had been of the meaning and wonder of life while she was alive. Before returning to her resting place, Emily laments, “Do … human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?”

Our realization of what is most important in life goes hand in hand with gratitude for our blessings.

— October 2008, LDS General Conference, “Finding Joy in the Journey