Tag Archives: poems


LilacI sometimes like to imagine that I am teaching a class in English literature or poetry and walk into class with something like what is in the photograph at the right.  I don’t say much to the students but just walk up to my desk and place it in the middle of the desk.  If one is familiar with plants of the temperate zone, one might recognize that plant part as the mature inflorescence of lilac flowers.  These are the seed pods of lilac flowers that bloomed, heavy scented in billows of lavender, blue, purple, or white blossoms unrivaled for attention in the spring but now, in the fall, are almost unnoticed by passersby.

All I would say to the students is, “Write a poem about this.”  There would be a lot of rumbling amongst the students, and a few questions like “What is it.”, “I can’t do that!”, to which I would respond, “It’s a lilac flower, you can do it.”  Then I would just say, “You’ve got 15 minutes.”  Oh, probably some students would have 3 or four lines about lilacs but most would still be bruising their brain at the end of 15 minutes.  Then, I would smugly provide each student a copy of the poem that Patience Worth wrote about browned lilacs and say, “This is what she did!”

(Before you read the following poem by Patience Worth try to write one of your own.  You can take as long as you like.)



I dinna believe I would have recalled
When the lilacs had browned,
For their purple plumes had nodded
Blithesomely upon the sunlit airs.
I dinna believe I would have recalled them so.
But the sun had stood high,
And the little fleece-clouds had played
At skipping o’er the gold-sprayed sky;
And the birds had skimmed the heights
Calling their music shrill, high upon the vasty ways,
And the brook was chattering beside,
Telling, telling of the mountain’s gab.

And I was youthed, and stepped the pathways
Joy-sped, listening to the bird’s songs,
Knowing the nodding of the lilac plumes,
Taking in their perfume, plucking them
To deck my love which pulsed in youthfulness.

Ah me, but that day hath gone,
And the skies are grey, and the clouds
Have wearied, sinking low to rest
Upon the earth’s rim.  And I—Ah,
I too am weary.  No longer
Doth Youth send her wine for my supping—
And the lilacs are bare, bare, but their spears
Stand brown against a silver sky,
Like old script writ of some older day!

Oh, I dinna believe that I
Would have recalled the lilacs so!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I would have to labor over a poem like this.  It’s not only the creativity and beautiful use of words but the thought that had to be there first before the words could come. Those who believe that Pearl Curran created this poem out of her subconscious mind need to remember that this poem, like all the other writing of Patience Worth was given sometimes letter by letter or word by word as fast as it could be written down by the stenographer.  Fifteen minutes may have been more than enough time for delivery. There was no hesitation, no fumbling for the perfect word, no writing and rewriting, no re-arranging lines as is often done by poets as their subconscious mind provides them thoughts to write down.  It’s as if the poem had already been composed and Patience Worth (or Pearl Curran) was just reciting it for her listeners. I ask you, who of you would not be proud to have written this poem?

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince in his investigation of the Patience Worth case wrote:

“Suppose that any living poet you can name were to have more than thirty subjects fired at him one after another in a single evening, and attempt to improvise, with the result that he orally delivered 32 short poems and 7 more or less witty and aphoristic remarks, the whole containing 1360 words!  Is there one who would dare to be put to the test?  Edgar Lee Masters, had listened to the improvisation of a number of poems by Patience Worth on subjects given, he was asked if he knew of any writer who could do the like, and replied, “There is but one answer to that question, it simply cannot be done.”

Almost universally the poets employ time and reflection and pains upon their work, and after the first draft of a set of verses is made,  go over it and revise,  some of them repeatedly. . . . .This evening’s work, 32 brief poems, and 7 other utterances, each started a few seconds after the subject was given by some one of the company present, contains no alteration either at the time or subsequently, but is here given as Patience Worth dictated and her words were taken down.”

Well, Dr. Prince may say this but we all know that Pearl Curran and other editors did smooth out the rough spots of some of the writing of Patience Worth prior to publishing.  (See “Typos”.)



In the poems of Patience Worth one can find her most creative and imaginative work.  She called her poems “songs” and writing them her “singing”.  Of course, Pearl Curran knew all about songs and singing as she had spent many years of her young life studying piano and singing.  Patience Worth uses the language of her poems as an artist uses paint on canvas. She smoothes and blends words of archaic and modern origin to produce images and feelings that pull the reader into a dimension outside of time and space.  The following  poems are, in my opinion, some of her best.


(July 1919)Woods_Moon

I have heard the moon’s beams
Sweeping the waters, making a sound
Like threads of silver, wept upon.
I have heard the scratch of the
Pulsing stars, and the purring sound
Of the slow moon as she rolled across
The night.  I have heard the shadows
Slapping the waters, and the licking
Sound of the wave’s edge as it sinks
Into the sand  upon the shore.

I have heard the sunlight as it pierced
The gloom with a golden bar, which
Whirred in a voice of myriad colors.
I have heard the sound which lay
Between the atoms which danced in the
Golden bar.  I have heard the sound
Of the leaves reclining upon their cushions
Of air, and the swish of the willow
Tassels as the wind whistled upon them,
And the sharp sound which the crawling
Mites proclaim upon the grasses blades,
And the multitude of sounds which lie
At the root of things.  Oh, I have heard
The song of resurrection which each seed
Makes as it spurts.  I have heard the sound
Of the night’s first shadow, when it 
Intermingles with the day, and the
Rushing sound of Morning’s wings as she
Flies o’er the Eastern gateway.

All of these have I heard, yet man
Hath not an ear for them.  Behold,
The miracle He hath writ within me;
Letting the chord of imagination strum!


         (July 1919)Rivera_Cour2

I have heard the music men make
Which is discord, proclaimed through
Egotry.   I have heard the churning
Of water by man’s cunning, and the
Shrieking of throttles which man addeth
Unto the day’s symphony.  I have heard
The pound of implements, and the clatter
Of blades.  I have heard the crushing blasts
Of Destruction.  I have heard men laugh
And their laughs were rusted as old vessels
In which brine wert kept.  I have heard
Women chatter like crows o’er carrion
And laugh as a magpie o’er a worm.
I have beheld all of these
And heard them.  Men have ears
For such; and the mystery of man is
That he should present them, and cry:
“Sing! Sing, Poet! Sing!”



(November 1916)


‘Twas morning, when my footsteps led me down the winding way.
The heavy smoke still hung the damp grey airs.
Mine eyes looked for the coming sun, but it did fail,
And weak stars fearful, trembled ‘mid the heaven’s deep.
The Earth beneath my very footfall shook.
The sod’s breast opened in gashes wide.
The field’s bloom drooped, or flamed red,
E’en as some dull fire.

And ah, mine eyes sought, sought, sought!
I looked on every way and ever saw some livid lip,
Some grinning death-oped mouth, some glaze-dimmed eye that saw
No morning’s coming, some man-stopped hand
That reached in suppliance for a brother’s grasp,
Some beast felled ‘mid his master’s blood,
Some cheek still stained of youth-fear tears,
Some empty bowl, that belched
To wipe Him from out His own, some blade,
Deep-dyed, the drops still thick’ning on its edge.

Ah, ’twas dark!  But sudden from the East,
E’en through the thick of smokes and mists,
Slipped a golden shaft that fell
E’en at my feet, to light—ah! another of the host!
A youthed son of some waiting one, his faith cut down
E’en ‘mid his faith-flashed smile; his locks crisp-young;
His cheek still stained of youth’s kiss on its curve;
His weak-sunk head at rest upon his bended arm,
And stiffened lips had failed to reach
The ebon cross that shewed within his fingers grasp.

And lo, the sun did kiss his bended head and gleam an halo ’bout.
And I did stoop to touch, and at the touching, lo,
I sunk there ‘pon the sod and wept;
And looked on high unto the weak sun climbing slow,
And oped my prayer in anguished word; for on the host that lay
God’s sun-smile shewed, and on the cross
There gleamed one word that spake me shame.

And I did raise mine eyes
And look afar unto the fields that lay,
And lo, there, cross on cross did stand,
Rude-wrought of such an stuff as His
Was builded up.  No word that, read
Might tell who lay within Earth’s breast.

And I did shut away the sight;
For His bright sun did light the hosts,
And on them showed the mocking, searing scripts,
And each one bore his shaming word:
“Brother!”  “Brother!”  “Brother!”



Oh ye mighty walls and towering spires astride the cowled gabled ways!
Thy emblazoned scripts depicting fanciful reaction of ancient times;
Smoking altars upon which yellow candles flare, burning the sacred air,
To send aloft a pungent scent of mouldering decay,
Blackening with slow sure touch the placid faces of the saints,
Who with stony visages gaze adown the aisles, unseeing man’s exultant
     joy or his despair.
Vault-like, in cold aloofness, proudly do ye stand, reechoing the chants
That flow from out cold tombs, the unlit hearts of priesthood and of
     saintly nuns.
For this did saints ope up their veins?  Did martyrs writhe?  And did
     holy writs
By their tedious array enslave the humble sanctity of men?
Or did men, to do their will, write with unalterable tracery
Law, that ran new within the fluid pressed in fervid troth to God?
While blood in lapping waves washed thy very doors, did Mary stand
Dumb, hearkening to some litany mumbled in a limped tongue,
And priest send incense up, or light a taper in thy pit-like dark?
Oh, everlasting God!  I am dismayed, that thy very stones did not gape
And fall apart; that every scarlet line within thy illumined records
Did not spurt in anguish and, bleeding, wipe the “law” from off the page.

Oh, holy structure, revered by man, upheld through ages through thy
     claim of part with Him!
Already is that morning come, and quaking earth upheaving!
Already doth thy mellow chime whisper its eerie knell.  Already doth
That King whom thou acclaimest sit in regal glory upon the mighty seat!
Oh, crumbling vestment of the ego,  Man—make way!  His host proceeds!
No altar yet upraised but shall give way to that his Sire hath flung
     from His prolific hand.
He, the High-priest, lights the taper Day, each morning with the sun,
And incense flings across the valley way in silver mists;
Filling the night with litanies, lighting each star in memory of some
     holy soul,
Defying mould and ravages of time, the festival of worm upon the
     festering flesh.
Exultant doth this God erect anew each coming day and night
An altar upon which to burn our hearts, while thou dost re-echo dead prayers;
Burning incense yet before the embered fire of Hope.

While thy dimming tapers die, and the carved saints stand mute before
     thy suppliants
What, should His holy step be heard naked upon the stones, with the
     pattering of sheep beside?


(February 1926)young_man_drinking_a_glass_of_wine_400

Behold, behold, the roadways lying stretched in grey dust-patterns
     about the field, curving the hillocks like necklets of ash;
And the creeping pageantry of man, sweeping out in gentle lines upon
     the pathways of the earth;
Yea, men who sweat, men who ache, men who anguish;
Men who torture from crude stuffs, stones and clay, wondrous imagery
     which speaks their souls;
Men who dip within their hearts and write scripts which the ages yet shall read;
And men who dip within a fluid, writing that which is not thick enough to
     cast a shadow;
Men who press their breasts upon implements of labor, striking the
     pregnant soil that it belch forth its teeming utterance;
Men who idly dream dreams that shall stir the hearts of empires;
Men who labor with blind eyes, never seeing, ever striving, with
     confusion as companion;
Men who live!  live to the last bitter dreg within the cup, quaffing with
     delight the potion of death—in defiance lifting the goblet;
Men who sit within the shadow of their doubt, beholding the cup of
     death in fearing,
Waiting for Tomorrow who already hath laid her hand upon the cup’s brim—
     Tomorrow whose finger pointeth to Eternity!

So this is the pageantry of labor; these are the vitals of Day.
     Behold, when they stop the Day is finished.
This is Day’s labor, this intricate pattern of laboring;
     What pattern doth it weave?
Oh, some morrow shall I stand beside the Loom
      with the shuttles empty—
All these little crawling puppets of the day, each unwound
     of its strand of existence;
Beholding the Plan, the Pattern God wove!







I would like to start providing an assortment of poems by Patience Worth.  Perhaps it is appropriate to start the recitation with poems of love and friendship.  The following poems by Patience Worth are some of my favorites.  I hope you will like them too.




Can I then hope to tear from out my heart the song ‘twould tell thee?
Were I to sing to the woodland, ‘twould be thy song.
Or should I pipe of happy days when thou wert absent from my life,
Thoud’st creep within the singing and every note be thine.

Or should I make a song unto my saddest season,
Thou still would’st sing, e’en through my sorrowing.
Thou who art but the essence of my song’s wine
Hast blossomed long before, within its very grape,
And ripened with my season’s heat and cold.
Who then denies that from my first voiced crooning,
Thou hast been the vibrant chord?




The following poem was untitled as were all of her poems when delivered but were usually given titles by those close to Pearl Curran, including Emily Hutchings, John Curran, Casper Yost and others.  This poem was a personal poem dictated for Herman Behr a devoted friend and benefactor of Pearl Curran. After John Curran died on June 1, 1922, Herman Behr provided Pearl Curran and her two girls a stipend of $400 per month  for a number of years.  Herman Behr published a collection of poems of Patience Worth titled Light From Beyond  in 1923.  He also translated them into German.  Max Behr, a son of Herman Behr, graduate of Yale University and renown California architect of golf courses and editor and writer for Golf Illustrated & Outdoor America, assisted Pearl Curran after she moved to Los Angeles in 1930.  He participated in sessions with Patience Worth and edited some of her work.  After Pearl Curran died in 1937 Max Behr married Pearl’s adopted daughter Patience “Wee” who had been divorced from Gerald Peters with whom she had one child named “Hope”.  Max Behr also cared for Pearl’s biological daughter, Eileen Curran who joined Max and Patience Wee in his home in Los Angeles County.  Max Behr was 33 years older than Patience “Wee” when he married her in 1939.  Patience “Wee” died in an alcoholic stuper on November 23, 1943 in Los Angeles, six years after Pearl Curran. Eileen Curran married three times  and died in 1982 in New Orleans, Louisana.  Max Behr  had two grown daughters when he married Patience “Wee”; Lisbeth, born in 1906 and Evelyn born in 1908.  His first wife Evelyn Baker Schely died in 1919.  Max Behr died in 1955.

Although there are some who write negatively about Max Behr and his relationship with Pearl Curran and her girls, I think he is grossly maligned in that he assumed a large responsibility when, as an older man with two grown children,  he took on the care (and treatment) of Patience “Wee” and Eileen after their mother died.   Reportedly, the teen-age Eileen thought that Max was a “generous but domineering man” and that he “thought he was Christ.”

I think he had all that he could handle to keep these two young spoiled girls in bounds.

Eileen Curran



What magic is thine, beloved?
Lo, had the day become a worn thing
And the vessels of office trinkets
Of memory.  What magic is thine?
Beneath the spell of thy voice have I
Walked upon the sands of morning
Which embrace Day, and found new toys
Awaiting me, new music in the waters,
New songs in the air, new peace
In the quietude, new simplicity
In confusion.  Each morrow is exultant
And I expectant.  I am comrade
With all days, no longer woeful
O’er yesterdays or fretful o’er tomorrows
Save in anticipation of new joys!

What magic is thine, beloved?
It is as though I had come fresh
From the conflict with bloody head,
With bruised hands and heavy feet,
With mine armour oppressing me—
It is as though I had come to thy side,
And felt thy gentle touch upon my brow,
Watched thy slender hands unthong
My coat of mail, and weary,
Dropped my head upon thy breast, secure
In the serenity of thy voice.

One of my favorites, the one which was read as part of my marriage ceremony is the following poem:



Beloved, I do not believe that I
Might know God’s mercy so intimately,
Save that I had known—thee!
I do not believe that my soul
Might have been so deep, so pit-like deep,
Had I not known and contained—thee!

Beloved, I might not hope—
Had I not heard thy pledge!
Nor could I have believed,
Save that I had believed in thee!
I could not believe that I
Might comprehend eternity,
Save that I had known thy limitless love!
Surely, Thou art the symbol of my New Day—
Wherein I might read
The record of my eternity!