This poem inspired me so much during my eighteen months as an LDS missionary. That was almost thirty years ago. I put the anonymous poem into the back of my scriptures during my mission, and I read it so often that I had it memorized.
I had not thought of it for a while until this week, when I said goodbye to my young almost-nephew, Ben Featherstone, before he left to serve as a missionary as well. I'd forgotten that I originally learned of this poem from his grandpa! His grandpa, Vaughn J. Featherstone quoted it in this talk in 1983.
The God of High Endeavor
Gave me a torch to bear.
I lifted it high above me
In the dark and murky air;
And straightway with loud hosannas
The crowd proclaimed its light
And followed me as I carried my torch
Through the starless night,
Till drunk with the people's praises
And mad with vanity
I forgot 'twas the torch that they followed
And fancied they followed me.
Then slowly my arm grew weary
Upholding the shining load,
And my tired feet went stumbling
Over the dusty road.
And I fell with the torch beneath me.
In a moment the light was out.
When lo! from the throng a stripling
Sprang forth with a mighty shout,
Caught up the torch as it smoldered
And lifted it high again,
Till fanned by the winds of heaven
It fired the souls of men.
As I lay alone in the darkness
The feet of the trampling crowd
Passed over and far beyond me,
Its praises* proclaimed aloud,
And I learned in the deepening twilight
The glorious verity,
'Tis the torch that the people follow,
Whoever the bearer may be.
[Author unknown, "The Torch Bearer," The Master of Men, comp. Thomas Curtis Clark (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1930), 205–6]
*the word "praises" has been substituted for the original word "paeans" in the poem.