Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

Behind The Scenes With Janice Kapp Perry: “What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?”

“What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?” is a poem written by Gordon B. Hinckley, former President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Janice Kapp Perry’s niece, Kathleen Blacker, was battling cancer, the poem brought more comfort than anything else. The poem was so special to Blacker that she requested President Hinckley’s permission to print the poem on her funeral program. Her request was granted, with well wishes from the prophet.

Blacker then asked Perry, her aunt, if she would set the poem to music. When it was done, she sent it to President Hinckley’s office for his approval to publish the song. A period of time passed without hearing anything, when she received a call with the news of Gordon B. Hinckley's passing. What followed was nothing short of miraculous; Perry recounts the events in her own words:

“My niece died in January, and then only about ten days later I received a call from my daughter saying President Hinckley passed away.  I felt such a personal loss for me, for the whole church, and yet I also felt sad that I didn’t get permission to publish it. He passed away on a Sunday evening, and when my son went out to get the mail on Monday he came in and said ‘Is this the letter you‘ve been waiting for, from the office of the First Presidency?’ I opened it with trembling hands. . . . It was his permission, saying he loved the hymn and we could publish it in our little series of hymns if we wanted. I was overjoyed. I came to find out that he had written the letter Friday, his last day in office; his secretary had mailed it Saturday, he passed away Sunday, and I got the letter Monday. The next day [former Choir director] Craig Jessop called and said the family would like it sung at his funeral."

Below are the words to the poem and hymn:

What is this thing that men call death,
 this quiet passing in the night?


’Tis not the end but genesis
 of better worlds and greater light.

O God, touch Thou my aching heart
 and calm my troubled, haunting fears.


Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
 give strength and peace beyond my tears.

There is no death, but only change, 
with recompense for vict’ry won.


The gift of Him who loved all men, 
the Son of God, the Holy One.