Poetry Wednesday: Dedications

This one is for my six-year old, who wandered up to my desk last night, a full hour after her bedtime, to tell me with grave sadness that her sleeping bag  had a loose thread hanging from it. 

It should be noted that her sleeping bag had been rolled up tight and tucked into her closet when I’d kissed her goodnight.

Bed in Summer
(Robert Louis Stevenson)Crazy Sunny

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

And this one is dedicated to that bullhorned bird who sits outside my window every morning to practice the only two notes he knows, one of which is flat. I don’t care what Mr. Frost says—you’d best not break camouflage where I can see you, because I have a shoe with your name on it, bucko.

The Oven Bird
(Robert Frost)

There is a singer everyone has heard,Burdie
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

And that one little kid two Saturdays ago, who took to the library like an untrained puppy takes to the Abyssinian rug:

On the Gift of a Book to a Child
(Hilaire Belloc)

Child! do not throw this book about!
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Child, have you never heard it saidcarved book
That you are heir to all the ages?
Why, then, your hands were never made
To tear these beautiful thick pages!

Your little hands were made to take
The better things and leave the worse ones:
They also may be used to shake
The Massive Paws of Elder Persons.

And when your prayers complete the day,
Darling, your little tiny hands
Were also made, I think, to pray
For men that lose their fairylands.

This is for those of us with Leaning Towers of Literacy on our bedside tables—and in our living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens and, and, and—who might complain about the length of their To Be Read lists, but have no intention of stopping until the Domino Effect buries us alive:

Of Modern Books
(Carolyn Wells)

A Pantoum

Of making many books there is no end,
Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone;
Each day new manuscripts are being penned,
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on.

Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone,
New volumes daily issue from the press;
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on—
The prospect is disheartening, I confess.

New volumes daily issue from the press;
My pile of unread books I view aghast.
The prospect is disheartening, I confess;
Why will these modern authors write so fast?

My pile of unread books I view aghast—
Of course I must keep fairly up to date—
Why will these modern authors write so fast?Drawers
They seem to get ahead of me of late.

Of course I must keep fairly up to date;
The books of special merit I must read;
They seem to get ahead of me of late,
Although I skim them very fast indeed.

The books of special merit I must read;
And then the magazines come round again;
Although I skim them very fast indeed,
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten.

And then the magazines come round again!
How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten—
It is appalling when I stop to think.

How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
Of making many books there is no end.
It is appalling when I stop to think
Each day new manuscripts are being penned!

And this one is dedicated to my dear friend who interrupted a perfectly good bout of anxiety and told me to write what I want to write, because I want to write it.  Now.

Lines on Nonsense
(Eliza Lee Follen)

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
I love it from my heart;Duck!2
The only earthly pleasure
That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,Inside a Book
And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
And vanish from our sight.

Thanks.  I needed that.

Got any dedications?

Poetry Wednesday: How Now, Purple Cow?

In 1895, humorist Gelett Burgess wrote a little four line poem for the premiere issue of The Lark, his literary magazine out of San Francisco:

The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least
(Gelett Burgess)

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

For some reason—the meter, the rhyme, the purple—this bit of nonsense caught fire.

Over the years, it has been memorized, recited, chanted over skipping ropes, analyzed to the point of <headdesk>,* and provided the inspiration behind everything from dubious ice cream treats to sports teams to writing groups.

It’s also proved irresistible to other writers, some of whom remain anonymous for good reason:

I’ve never seen a purple cow.
My eyes with tears are full.
I’ve never seen a purple cow,
And I’m a purple bull.

There are even several parodies, most of which were  written in the 1920s by Carolyn Wells in the style of other authors—including William Wordsworth,** though I personally think she was channeling a bit of Robert Frost:

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dee;
A Cow whom there were few to praise
And very few to see.

A violet by a mossy stone
Greeting the smiling East
Is not so purple, I must own,
As that erratic beast.

She lived unknown, that Cow, and so
I never chanced to see;
But if I had to be one, oh,
The difference to me!

Or maybe not Frost . . . but you have to admit “The Cow Not Taken,” is an excellent title.

The original verse was imitated so often that Mr. Burgess eventually failed to see the flattery and wrote a follow-up in The Lark several years later:

Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue
(Gelett Burgess)

Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you anyhow
I’ll kill you if you quote it!

As you might imagine, this didn’t stop anyone.  In fact, as you also might imagine, it just seemed to egg ’em on:

Cow’s Meow
(Täs Zinck)

I’ve never heard a cat meow.
I’d never want to feed one.
But I can tell you anyhow,
It’s some trouble to de-flea one.

I don’t believe Mr. Burgess ever made good on his threats or instructed his descendants to do so, so we’re gonna run with it.

You envy poets, so you say?
The language and the freedom?
Well, if Sarah gets her way
You’ll take the chance to be one.

Yep, it’s contest time!

Write a four-line poem about something you’ve never seen, sticking as close to the original meter (in syllables, 8-7-8-7) and rhyme scheme (a-b-a-b) as you can—but don’t sweat it.  I didn’t.


Do a purple cow parody in the style of a poet I would recognize (check the archive)*** and share it in the comments here or send it to the e-mail address in the upper left corner.   Your name will go in twice for trying Chaucer in Middle English, and will be thrown away for Thomas Hardy, because it’s continuing to be a heck of week and I can’t even deal with him right now.

If you decide to accept this mission—and you know you want to—your name will be placed in the Pink Cowgirl Hat of Win^ for a chance to score a regular-sized mug of your choice from CafePress, or an online gift card in an equivalent amount, should you not wish to give me your mailing address which won’t hurt my feelings at all, promise.

And since I wouldn’t challenge any of you to do something I wouldn’t—at least on Wednesdays—and to illustrate how little time these take out of your busy life:

I’ve never seen an orange crow
I’d pay good cash to see one
Or more, all lined up in a row
Against all sense and reason.^^

I’ve rarely seen a clean playroom
(and neither has their father)
Instead I play on my bassoon
‘Cause housework’s such a bother.

Three of the five minutes each of these took was spent counting on my fingers to see if I had the syllables right—and it was fun!

Give it a try—I double cow dare you.

You have until this Sunday at midnight, Chicago time.   Go.


*Why can’t people just let a funny little poem about a purple cow be a funny little poem about a purple cow?  Isn’t that enough?

**From “Diversions of the Re-Echo Club, The Book of Humorous Verses,  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1920.

***If you are a poet (looking at you, John S.,  lilygriff, Hansen, and the other poetical lurkers I suspect I’ve got), please pick someone else.  Kev, the moratorium on limericks still holds.

^Or possibly the Blue Cubs Hat of Maybe Next Year if the owner of the Pink Cowgirl Hat doesn’t clean her room so I can find it.

^^Or, “‘Cause ginger’s in this season.”  Tough choice . . .