Ever the Student
Teach me. Teach me!
Let me never become so old
That my ears are not pits.
Teach me. Teach me!
Let every man become my teacher,
Let every sorrow speak deeply.
Let every joy inscribe me.
Teach me. Teach me!
For if I stop listening,
I shall stop forever!
Yea, the writing of the ages
Speaks eternity as ever
Listening, ever waiting.
Teach me. Teach me!
Let me ne’er forget that I am a child;
That tomorrow is a secret,
A joyful secret, not yet imparted;
That yesterday was a plaything
Which I loved, but left
Upon a pathway within a shadow.
Teach me. Teach me–
That I am a little child!
Let me forever learning,
Ne’er forever yearning!
It might surprise some skeptics that the poem above was written by a supposed spirit called Patience Worth and transcribed via automatic writing by St. Louis housewife Pearl Curran. Many poems, such as the one above, were carefully and repeatedly transcribed during a twenty year communication on a Ouija board. To this date, as far as I know, the mystery of Patience Worth has yet to be definitively explained.
Pearl Curran was said to have had a limited education, dropping out of high school early, but the literature she created in the name of Patience Worth was impressive enough to be anonymously published, to impress the critics, and garner comparisons to Shakespeare and the Bible. In my opinion, her poetry alone is worth it’s weight in gold, and ought to be taught in English classes. Her works of art, including fictional prose, are simply too good to be forgotten, and too mysterious to be explained.
There were skeptics who witnessed “Patience Worth’s” authorship first hand. These psychologists and doctors reportedly had casual conversations with Patience, and her replies were filled with obsolete dialects and terms; by this, we can be certain that the words were often (but perhaps not always) being channeled and transcribed spontaneously without editing or careful forethought. This was in the 1920s, however, and I wouldn’t put it past skeptics of the time to be easily fooled by an impressive show. It’s possible that Patience Worth’s actual poetry and fiction was authored earlier and memorized, but of course, that fails to explain the casual conversations.
There was even an instance where Patience improvised an alphabetized poem based on a skeptic’s suggestion. Being an improv actor myself, I can say that such a stunt is surprisingly easy for a quick thinking performer to pull off. Improv requires the balance between left and right brain; the performer must tap into the intuitive mind and let go of any fears or insecurities. There’s nothing to say that Pearl Curran wasn’t just an adept improviser and talented author, but the mystery would then lie in the inexplicable olde english and anachronisms from Patience Worth, who, despite being coy about her origins, claimed to be an immigrant from “across the sea” (England) living between the years 1649 and 1694. Rarely, did Patience Worth betray a single word that came after the seventeenth century, something I find extremely difficult to believe. The first words assigned to the spirit of Patience Worth were:
Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread at thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog.
My first inclination was that the poetry and fiction attributed to Patience Worth may simply be the actual literature of a previously unknown author of unknown origin, to which Pearl Curran somehow had access. Many of the coversations that Patience had with skeptics were vague; her replies were confusing and hard to penetrate. It’s possible that Pearl developed a pattern or code that helped her respond to questions using the archaic vocabulary and grammar. Such explanations seem to over-reach but are within reason.
There’s no hiding from the fact that the words of Patience are of near perfect Anglo Saxon dialect with few modern terms. I say “few” modern terms, but the very fact that the author failed to perfectly eliminate modern terms means that the work was written by a modern mind, albeit one that had a tremendous mastery of writing in classic style.
Based on appearances, it doesn’t seem like Pearl would have been smart enough to pull off the impressive poetry of Patience Worth, but appearances can be deceiving. Who knows what books she absorbed from the local library, or maxims and tricks of the tongue she may have learned from her proximity to the Ozarks?
Many have theorized that Pearl Curran was way more intelligent than she seemed. Historians have said that she didn’t have many books, that she scored low on exams, and that she had a low self esteem. The last provides a clue that she may have been repressing her intellect. Perhaps she was held back by a repressive parent, and only by creating an alter ego could she thrive as an author. This is the most logical of all the answers. It’s likely that skeptics of the time failed to uncover the full depth of Pearl Curran’s repressed talent, and that if they looked harder, they would have seen she had a keen, yet repressed, interest in classic literature.
There’s one clue that Pearl was scamming everyone. In the Patience Worth poem The Deceiver, Pearl seems to admit that she is a fraud. That said, Pearl/Patience was a gifted writer that has since been forgotten by the world. It shouldn’t matter that she deceived her peers, Pearl Curran as Patience Worth deserves to be recognized along side the great American poets Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The story of Patience Worth, no doubt corrupted by near perfect fraud, does not and should not nullify the appreciation we ought to show for the literature.
Even though there seem to be no answers to the mystery of Patience Worth, people should not default to an extraordinary answer of supernatural explanation. Sometimes life’s mysteries don’t get solved in quick and easy ways, but that does not mean that we should all go out and buy a ouija board to tune into our past lives. No, we should instead accept it as a genuine mystery and maybe even admire the cunning of those masterminds who perpetually fooled us all.
Below are Pearl Curran poems that I feel deserve recognition. I encourage everyone to check them out, and to share them with your friends and to even read them to your children.