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Monday, March 1, 2010

Dorothy Parker poem

Dorothy Parker was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a famous collection of wits (including Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, Alexander Woolcott, Edna Ferber, and Heywood Broun) who gathered in New York City during the 1920's.

Parker supposedly replied, when asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." I've always had my doubts about this anecdote: who would ever, in the course of any normal conversation, ask another person to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence? Perhaps she thought of the reply first, then asked someone to ask her the question.

The incident reminds me a little of that story about Abraham Lincoln, who, when asked how long a man's legs should be, supposedly replied, "Long enough to reach the ground." Who would ever ask such an inane question of a President?

Imagine that press conference. Reporters are gathered around Lincoln. One shouts out, "Mr. President, is it true that Lee is considering surrendering?" Another asks, "Mr. President, were the Union losses at Appomattox as bad as reported?" Then another cries out, "Mr. President, how long should a man's legs be?"

I don't think so.

In any case, the horticulture story may be apocryphal, but there is no doubting Dorothy Parker's genius. Read a book of her collected works and you'll be overwhelmed by her biting wit. Her theater and book reviews, especially the negative ones, are fun in a vicious sort of way, and her poems are often quite clever as well. Here's one:

Song of Perfect Propriety

Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer,
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives' chains would clank,
I'd howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank,
And watch the beggars sink.

I'd like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks,
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse,
Among my blackguard crew...
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.

Oh, I should like to dance and laugh,
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I'd like to view the reeling years,
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.

I'd stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound --
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I'd like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill....
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this pleasant little cultural diversion an entertaining ditty. On an early trip to NY I was taken to the Algonquin for drinks by a friend and I now understand a little more of the literary heritage he referred to at the time. It seemed then that it hadn't been redecorated since the time of the Round Table.

John Craig said...

Guy --Thank you. I've never been there, but I can understand why they'd want to preserve the heritage.