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Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was an American poet, writer, critic and satirist. Today she is best known for her wit, wisecracks, epigrams, quotes, short pithy poems and spoonerisms. But she also wrote more serious poems reminiscent of those of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sarah Teasdale. Parker also won acclaim for her literary contributions to The New Yorker and for her Hollywood screenwriting on A Star is Born and The Little Foxes, for which she earned two Academy Award nominations. Parker was sometimes dismissive of her own talents and deplored her reputation as a "wisecracker," but today she has achieved a stature comparable to that of famous wits like Oscar Wilde and Ogden Nash. According to her New York Times obituary, Parker was a "sardonic humorist" who "sparkled with a word or phrase, for she honed her humor to its most economical size. Her rapier wit, much of it spontaneous, gained its early renown from her membership in the Algonquin Round Table, an informal luncheon group at the Algonquin Hotel in the nineteen-twenties, where some of the city's most sedulous framers of bon mots gathered." One of Parker's most famous comments was made when she was informed that former president Calvin Coolidge had died; she asked, "How could they tell?" She supported many liberal causes and bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation.


I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.

You can lead a whore to culture,
but you can't make her think.

(After being asked to use the word "horticulture" during a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence.)

Sex Hex

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
All I need is room enough to lay a hat, and a few friends. (About the smallish size of her apartment.)
If all the girls who attended Yale were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
Q: What's the difference between an enzyme and a hormone? A: You can't hear an enzyme!
Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common.
Ducking for apples—change one letter and it's the story of my life.
I’ve been too fucking busy, or vice versa. (Her response when her editor asked for more stories during her honeymoon.) 
When told that a certain woman wouldn't hurt a fly, Parker retorted, "Not if it was buttoned up."
I require only three things in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless and stupid.
It serves me right for keeping all my eggs in one bastard. (Leaving the hospital after an abortion.)

Funny Money

I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.
Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.
The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.’
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.

Professional Discourtesy

Of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Parker said: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. (Speaking of Katharine Hepburn.)


You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.
A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true!
That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.
Look at him, a rhinestone in the rough!
Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.
The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.
Women and elephants never forget.
Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.
(More of Dorothy Parker's epigrams appear later on this page.)

I wish I could drink like a lady

I wish I could drink like a lady;
I can take one or two at the most:
Three and I'm under the table,
Four and I'm under the host.

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying―
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Thought for a Sunshiny Morning

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
"Your clan will pay me back one day."

A Very Short Song

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad―
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.

Miscellaneous Short Poems

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

My land is bare of chattering folk;
the clouds are low along the ridges,
and sweet's the air with curly smoke
from all my burning bridges.

Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
And what if I don’t, and what if I do?

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide,
If cool my heart and high my head
I think "How lucky are the dead."

Now I know the things I know,
and I do the things I do;
and if you do not like me so,
to hell, my love, with you!

So silent I when Love was by
He yawned, and turned away;
But Sorrow clings to my apron-strings,
I have so much to say.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Buried all of his libretti,
Thought the matter over―then
Went and dug them up again.

Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.

Words of Comfort to be Scratched on a Mirror

Helen of Troy had a wandering glance;
Sappho’s restriction was only the sky;
Ninon was ever the chatter of France;
But oh, what a good girl am I.

Two-Volume Novel

The sun’s gone dim,
And the moon’s turned black;
For I loved him,
And he didn’t love back.

De Profundis

Oh, is it, then, Utopian
To hope that I may meet a man
Who’ll not relate, in accents suave,
The tales of girls he used to have?


There's little in taking or giving,
There's little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest's for a clam in a shell,
So I'm thinking of throwing the battle―
Would you kindly direct me to hell?

One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet―
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Little Words

When you are gone, there is nor bloom nor leaf,
Nor singing sea at night, nor silver birds;
And I can only stare, and shape my grief
In little words.

I cannot conjure loveliness, to drown
The bitter woe that racks my cords apart.
The weary pen that sets my sorrow down
Feeds at my heart.

There is no mercy in the shifting year,
No beauty wraps me tenderly about.
I turn to little words―so you, my dear,
Can spell them out.

But Not Forgotten

I think, no matter where you stray,
That I shall go with you a way.
Though you may wander sweeter lands,
You will not soon forget my hands,
Nor yet the way I held my head,
Nor all the tremulous things I said.
You still will see me, small and white
And smiling, in the secret night,
And feel my arms about you when
The day comes fluttering back again.
I think, no matter where you be,
You'll hold me in your memory
And keep my image, there without me,
By telling later loves about me.


Little things that no one needs―
Little things to joke about―
Little landscapes, done in beads.
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore—little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.


They hurried here, as soon as you had died,
Their faces damp with haste and sympathy,
And pressed my hand in theirs, and smoothed my knee,
And clicked their tongues, and watched me, mournful-eyed.
Gently they told me of that Other Side―
How, even then, you waited there for me,
And what ecstatic meeting ours would be.
Moved by the lovely tale, they broke, and cried.

And when I smiled, they told me I was brave,
And they rejoiced that I was comforted,
And left to tell of all the help they gave.
But I had smiled to think how you, the dead,
So curiously preoccupied and grave,
Would laugh, could you have heard the things they said.


Into love and out again,
Thus I went, and thus I go.
Spare your voice, and hold your pen―
Well and bitterly I know
All the songs were ever sung,
All the words were ever said;
Could it be, when I was young,
Some one dropped me on my head?

More Epigrams

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant―and let the air out of the tires.
Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.
Four be the things I’d have been better without: Love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.
I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound—if I can remember any of the damn things.
I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do any thing. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more.


And if my heart be scarred and burned,
The safer, I, for all I learned;
The calmer, I, to see it true
That ways of love are never new—
The love that sets you daft and dazed
Is every love that ever blazed;
The happier, I, to fathom this:
A kiss is every other kiss.
The reckless vow, the lovely name,
When Helen walked, were spoke the same;
The weighted breast, the grinding woe,
When Phaon fled, were ever so.
Oh, it is sure as it is sad
That any lad is every lad,
And what's a girl, to dare implore
Her dear be hers forevermore?
Though he be tried and he be bold,
And swearing death should he be cold,
He'll run the path the others went....
But you, my sweet, are different.

A Fairly Sad Tale

I think that I shall never know
Why I am thus, and I am so.
Around me, other girls inspire
In men the rush and roar of fire,
The sweet transparency of glass,
The tenderness of April grass,
The durability of granite;
But me—I don't know how to plan it.
The lads I've met in Cupid's deadlock
Were—shall we say?—born out of wedlock.
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience
Deny me wisdom, calm, and sense!
Though she's a fool who seeks to capture
The twenty-first fine, careless rapture,
I must go on, till ends my rope,
Who from my birth was cursed with hope.
A heart in half is chaste, archaic;
But mine resembles a mosaic—
The thing's become ridiculous!
Why am I so? Why am I thus?

A Portrait

Because my love is quick to come and go—
A little here, and then a little there—
What use are any words of mine to swear
My heart is stubborn, and my spirit slow
Of weathering the drip and drive of woe?
What is my oath, when you have but to bare
My little, easy loves; and I can dare
Only to shrug, and answer, "They are so"?

You do not know how heavy a heart it is
That hangs about my neck—a clumsy stone
Cut with a birth, a death, a bridal-day.
Each time I love, I find it still my own,
Who take it, now to that lad, now to this,
Seeking to give the wretched thing away.

But Not Forgotten

I think, no matter where you stray,
That I shall go with you a way.
Though you may wander sweeter lands,
You will not soon forget my hands,
Nor yet the way I held my head,
Nor all the tremulous things I said.
You still will see me, small and white
And smiling, in the secret night,
And feel my arms about you when
The day comes fluttering back again.
I think, no matter where you be,
You'll hold me in your memory
And keep my image, there without me,
By telling later loves about me.


Half across the world from me
Lie the lands I'll never see—
I, whose longing lives and dies
Where a ship has sailed away;
I, that never close my eyes
But to look upon Cathay.

Things I may not know nor tell
Wait, where older waters swell;
Ways that flowered at Sappho's tread,
Winds that sighed in Homer's strings,
Vibrant with the singing dead,
Golden with the dust of wings.

Under deeper skies than mine,
Quiet valleys dip and shine.
Where their tender grasses heal
Ancient scars of trench and tomb
I shall never walk: nor kneel
Where the bones of poets bloom.

If I seek a lovelier part,
Where I travel goes my heart;
Where I stray my thought must go;
With me wanders my desire.
Best to sit and watch the snow,
Turn the lock, and poke the fire.

The Picture Gallery

My life is like a picture gallery,
With narrow aisles wherein the spectators may walk.
The pictures themselves are hung to the best advantage;
So that the good ones draw immediate attention.
Now and then, one is so cleverly hung,
That, though it seems unobtrusive,
It catches the most flattering light.
Even the daubs are shown so skillfully
That the shadows soften them into beauty....
My life is like a picture gallery,
With a few pictures turned discreetly to the wall.

A Certain Lady

Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You'll never know.

Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings,—
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me—marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ...
And what goes on, my love, while you're away,
You'll never know.

The HyperTexts