Dr. Walter Franklin Prince quotes a poem by Patience Worth in his book The Case of Patience Worth. The poem is titled after the first line ‘SCARCE HAD THE MOON WRIT HER SILVER SCROLL’. Dr. Prince commented that he thought that the poem “may be interpreted several ways like a musical composition. To me it makes very little difference what the precise meaning is. Perhaps I like it all the better because that meaning is problematical . . . . “
I am addressing this poem because I think that this is an example of a typographical error in the writings of Patience Worth and by simply changing two letters of one word in the last stanza, the poem becomes perfectly clear to me and is no longer problematical as thought by Dr. Prince. With the change and a more appropriate title, I am not bothered by any ambiguity at all. In fact I have used this poem in a sympathy card I sent to a family of a young man who was unexpectedly found dead in his car one early Spring morning, in the driveway of his parents with whom he lived.
The word with the typo is the word ‘Love’, with a capital L. Here it is in the last stanza as published by Dr. Prince.
SCARCE HAD THE MOON WRIT HER SILVER SCROLL
And I knew thy voice, oh Love!
No din of trumpetry may dim its call, no silence blot its beauty
Scarce had I trod my path, When the calling came,
That shall lead me past the portal’s way
Unto newer fields and deeper glories.
By simply changing the ‘v’ in love to an ‘r’ and the final ‘e’ to a ‘d’ we have changed ‘Love’ to ‘Lord’, with the appropriate capital ‘L’. One might note that the ‘d’ is below the ‘e’ on a typewriter keyboard and struck with the same finger and the ‘r’ and ‘v’, although struck with the same finger is more likely an error in reading a smudged lower case ‘r’ for a ‘v’. Remember Patience Worth’s dictation was first written in longhand and then typed on a manual, non-electric typewriter by a stenographer, sometimes with several carbon copies. Emily Grant Hutchings, who participated in the first dictations of Patience Worth usually took the handwritten dictation home for typing and it is reported that she sometimes revised the dictation to make it more understandable—to her!
Typing errors required typeovers not deletes as is easily done now on a computer and often appeared as one big smudge on the paper. The photo below is taken from a draft copy of An Elizebethan Mask written in 1932 but never published.
I sent the same poem, revised with a different title taken from the text and changing ‘Love’ to ‘Lord’ to the bereaved parents of the young man found dead in his car one early Spring morning. See if the poem makes sense in that context with the two-letter change, changing the word ‘Love’ to ‘Lord’, and a more appropriate title. I think that this small change makes this poem more likely to reflect the intent of Patience Worth.
WHEN THE CALLING CAME
Scarce had the moon writ her silver scroll across the sky
Scarce had the night grown weak to die;
Scarce had the morning stretched her rosy arms
Out from the East beckoning the day;
Scarce had the earth set up the crawl of things that write the hours;
Scarce had I started the journey on my way when the calling came.
Out from the dim lands, past the pale of cloud or star,
From the depths where I list with my soul,
Hearing the waters of other seas and the voices of lands afar;
Scarce had I stepped my path when the calling came.
And I knew thy voice, oh Lord!
No din of trumpetry may dim its call, no silence blot its beauty.
Scarce had I trod my path when the calling came.
That shall lead me past the portal’s way
Unto newer fields and deeper glories.
Just by changing those two letters in the word ‘Love’, the precise meaning of the poem becomes obvious.
After studying some of the Patience Worth material over the years I have come to realize that there are probably many errors, some meaningful, in interpretation, spelling, parsing and translation of the writing of Patience Worth due to the many hands the writing has gone through prior to publishing. One almost has to go back to the original notes by John Curran and others present during the delivery from Patience to really get the true sense of exactly what was said. And even then, there may be stenographic errors. Poets and writers who are considered “respected” are studied over time by many students of writing and eventually a consensus is achieved as to the correct version of the work. In Patience Worth’s case, the work hasn’t yet achieved such status that it has become required reading in high school or college English classes. No one studies it carefully and therefore several versions of some of the works may be found. .
There are examples where it seems obvious that a typographical error occurred or there was a mistake in typesetting the material for publishing. There are other published works of Patience Worth where the editor of the work apparently feels it is necessary to make a tweak here and there, thinking his change or interpretation is surely what Patience meant. (I am not immune to this inclination as evidenced above and neither was Emily Grant Hutchings.)
And it is true, that contrary to some reports that the works of Patience Worth were published as given—with no changes—it is obvious when reviewing draft copies of the work prior to publishing that minor changes and corrections were made. The undated draft copy to the right is one used by some pseudoskeptics to attempt to provide evidence that Pearl Curran was the author of the work attributed to Patience Worth. But let’s think about it for a minute. Pearl Curran said she received letters, words, and visions from Patience Worth which she (Pearl) would try, initially, to transcribe by using a Ouija board. Someone had to call out the individual letters as they were pointed out by Pearl Curran, someone would have to write them down, and someone would have to eventually type them out, using a manual non-electric typewriter sometimes making several carbon copies. Are we so naïve that we think that no errors in transcription would ever have occurred? As given, the material was not divided into individual words, it was not punctuated, parsed nor were words capitalized. It was in long lines of individual letters. Poems had no titles. Someone else had to do those chores. Why would anyone want to deny Pearl Curran the right to review the draft copies of what she had transmitted from Patience Worth and make corrections? In the example above given by the pseudoskeptics, Pearl’s corrections were relatively minor. She suggested that the typist “break it up—it will look better I think!” ( I can’t imagine that a true writer would have given that kind of general direction.) She suggested that some words be capitalized. She clarified smudged typing. In other words, she proofed it!—as any editor would. Who knows what the typist was reading when she had to x-out several lines? Pearl didn’t x-out those lines on the typewriter—the typist did! (Well, I would be more sure of that statement if I knew the date of this example.)
Professor Daniel Shea, in his recent book ‘The Patience of Pearl’ states that Pearl, relying on an inexperienced stenographer, found disparities between what Patience Worth had given her on ‘first delivery’ and what was recorded. There had been a need to re-do what had been communicated and Pearl feared that it could suggest a kind of tampering which was not fair to her or to Patience Worth. This is in sharp contrast to the editing of transcriptions from Mark Twain by Emily Hutchings. (See “Emily and Jasper“.)
Walter Franklin Prince in his book The Case of Patience Worth wrote that there was a remarkably successful attempt “…to set down P.W.’s words exactly as she gave them, yet I have no doubt that there are a great many unintentional and usually unimportant errors on the part of the scribes. The difficulties of the ‘dialect’ and the speed of delivery would make this inevitable. And I have no doubt that obscure passages and even poems have been made more obscure and marred by such errors, either omissions or wrong forms of words. Two passages which I thought must contain such disfiguring errors, I referred to P.W. herself, and though it had been years since their composition, she corrected both according to my theory of what had been meant, without hint from me. Especially after P.W. had begun to dictate by words, spellings in the record would depend somewhat on who the recorder for the nonce was. Thus we have the spellings ‘nae’ and ‘nay’ for example, and P.W. is not responsible for the divergencies. There are certain words printed in this book which I think were mishearings or slips of the pen, but in every case except where I state to the contrary these have been permitted to stand as found. But the honesty of the record I consider beyond intelligent question.”
OK, OK already! Let’s get beyond the mechanics of getting Patience Worth’s thoughts down on paper. Try to see the thought, the sentiment behind all the mechanics of getting something ready for publishing..
The following is what I think the poem, which the pseudoskeptics were trying to ridicule, might have looked like had it been published. I challenge any woman (or man) to read this poem and not be touched by it, not resonate with it, not feel the love of a mother for her child. It doesn’t make any difference if Pearl Curran parsed it, punctuated it or corrected spelling (albeit spelling was not Pearl Curran’s forté). It doesn’t make any difference if I parse it, punctuate it or correct spelling. Look deep into the words of Patience Worth; how can anyone not see the beauty there?
OH BABE OF MINE
How could I know, oh babe of mine, until you came
The glorious agony of that sweet tryst with God?
How could I know ’till He surrendered you unto my keeping
What Mary felt with Jesus at her breast?
How could I know the mystery of life’s entire unfoldment,
Until He lay with tender hand thy helplessness before me?
Let thy wavering hands seek out my breast
And thy sweet lips take nurture there.
Until I heard thee lisp, how could I know
The solemn sacrament of love wert so piteously small,
That I before it, lost the fear of living;
That I might minister, thereby learning that love is ministration.
How could I know, oh babe of mine the simple trinity –
God, Love and Creation save I had known thee
And thereby learned how little sages know;
Even as you lay mute, your great eyes seeking,
Your hands untutored, yet perfect implements to be.
In that mysterious trust, in that perfection, in that surrender,
God spoke such monstrous words that only woman comprehends
And all man’s cunning is as naught.
Baffled, the sages stand before a babe.
How could I know this – before you came?
In Keith Kingkamp’s book ‘The Patience Worth Record: Volume 1’, he opines that in the line “Ah, through the granite sips the lichen…” Patience possibly meant ‘…through the granite slips the lichen.’ I note this because this line is one of my favorites in that Patience lets me know that she knows something about where and how lichens grow. The ebb and flow of water is very important to lichen growth and the image of lichens sipping water through the hard granite is a scientific and creative one. (Frankly, I don’t know what ‘through the granite slips the lichen’ means.) In the same book the line “The morning sun shall warm the world to life, and rain fall on the rooting grass where I am laid”, while in other versions the line is given as, “…and rain fall on the rotting grass where I am laid.” Personally I prefer the latter.
In another example from Dr. Prince’s book he quotes Patience as saying “. . . and study thou the smile of an infant’s lips in sleep, where hallowed angels whisper the word love thou wouldst choose believe that thou hast taught, . . . ” while in Ringkamp’s printing of ‘The Patience Worth Record’, Patience states “. . . and study thou the smile of an infant’s lips in sleep, where hallowed angels whisper the world lore thou wouldst choose to believe that thou hast taught, . . . ” (This is another example of the misreading of an ‘r’ for a ‘v’ by Dr. Prince and may support my claim that an ‘r’ was misread as a ‘v’ in the typewritten manuscript of ‘When The Calling Came’)
I can say from experience that it is difficult to transcribe the work of Patience Worth for publishing without making errors. One should use caution, however, before declaring that those variances or seeming errors in the writing suggest re-working of the text or fraud on the part of Pearl Curran.
One more variance in Ringkamp’s book is in one of my favorite poems titled by Dr. Prince in ‘The Case of Patience Worth’ as ‘Predestined Love’ but is titled ‘Where Should I Sing’ in the ‘Patience Worth Record: Volume 1′ . Permit me to quote the poem in whole as published first by Dr. Prince and then followed by Ringkamp’s version in ‘The Patience Worth Record: Volume 1′.
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?
Here is the version as published in The Patience Worth Record: Volume 1. These are minor differences,( including parsing) I know, but crucial to the beauty of this poem. I think I prefer the above version published in Dr. Prince’s book in this example.
WHERE SHOULD I SING
Can I then hope to tear from out my heart the song
‘twould tell to thee? Were I to sing unto the
woodland, ‘twould be thy song. Or should I pipe of
happy days when thou wert absent in my life,
thou’dst creep within the singing and every note be thine.
Or should I make a song unto my saddest season,
thou still wouldst sing, e’en through my sorrowing.
Thou who wert not the essence of my song’s wine
hast blossomed long before, within the very grape,
and ripened with my seasons’ heat and cold. Who
then denies that from my first voiced crooning, thou
hast been the vibrant chord?
In Walter Franklin Prince’s book The Case of Patience Worth, see if you can find the typo in the following poem.
(Hint: Look for an ‘s’ in a ‘word’.)
Who would pray, let him then
Make his prayer the sheathe of the sword,
And not the word. Let him then
Make his prayer the goblet to contain the wine,
Yet not the wine. Let him then
Make his prayer a casket of alabaster
In which to keep the jewel, not the jewel.
Prayer is the vessel of God
To contain its dealing. It is not
A cajoling power. Prayer then
Is the linen upon the altar and the goblet
Upon the linen, not the altar.
Prayer then is the living sacrifice
Before it is slain, not the burnt offering.
Prayer is a declaration of life,
Not an acclamation of death.
Prayer is joy, not sorrow. It is
The blood of laughter, not of tears,
Prayer is the raiment of sorrow;
It is the pillow of joy. It is
The pedestal of exultation. It is
The intoxication of consciousness of the kinship,
Else it is not prayer.
Here is what Patience Worth has to say about people who change her work. “Ah me, I kenned a man who tasted a stew and smacked his lips, then pulled a wise wink and said, “It needs a touch, and that touch is mine!”