The Purple Cow
(Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least.)
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.
--Gelett Burgess (1866 – 1951)
As a child, I delighted in spouting this poem to any audience I could find. In second grade, it appeared in our reading book, and we shouted it at each other on the playground and laughed uncontrollably. It was easy to remember; it was fun; and it made people smile. If you stopped me on the street today and asked me to recite a poem, this is probably the one I’d remember.
“The Purple Cow” poem first appeared in 1895 in the inaugural issue of a monthly magazine in San Francisco called The Lark. Burgess, who edited and wrote most of The Lark, gained quite a bit of notoriety from the poem, and in frustration, he penned another one that appeared in the final issue of the magazine two years later:
Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue
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!
In the many years since my energetic performances of “The Purple Cow,” I’ve managed to extend my appreciation to other poems, most of which are more sophisticated (but not necessarily as much fun to shout).
If you’re looking for a funny poem or a love poem or a poem with angst, this is a great month to look around: Schools and libraries and booksellers and poets are celebrating National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets, who founded National Poetry Month in 1996, designed the campaign to increase the visibility of poetry and its contributions to our culture. You can find out more about poetry events in your area by checking out the Academy’s National Poetry Month Web page.
Do you have a favorite poem from your childhood?
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