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The Purple Cow -- Gelett Burgess

(Poem #120) The Purple Cow
The Purple Cow's Projected Feast:
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
What the poem doesn't say the subtitle does - do I really need to comment
on it? Burgess, incidentally, grew increasingly annoyed by the fact that he
was known mainly for 'The Purple Cow', and eventually wrote the following

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!

        -- Gelett Burgess


Burgess, Gelett

 b. Jan. 30, 1866, Boston, Mass., U.S.
 d. Sept. 17, 1951, Carmel, Calif.

in full FRANK GELETT BURGESS, American humorist and illustrator, best known
for a single, early, whimsical quatrain: [The Purple Cow]

Burgess was educated as an engineer and worked briefly for a railroad in
that capacity. Between 1891 and 1894 he taught topographical drawing at the
University of California. In 1895 Burgess became the founding editor of
Lark, a humour magazine, and in 1897 he began to publish books of his
self-illustrated whimsical writings.

Burgess' humour was based upon the sudden break of ideas: a substitution of
the unexpected for the commonplace. Among his best-known works are Goops and
How to Be Them (1900) and subsequent books on Goops (bad-mannered children).
He is credited with adding several words to the English language, including
blurb. Among his many other works are Are You a Bromide? (1906), Why Men
Hate Women (1927), and Look Eleven Years Younger (1937).

        -- EB

blurb blArb. slang (orig. U.S.). [See note below.] A brief descriptive
paragraph or note of the contents or character of a book, printed as a
commendatory advertisement, on the jacket or wrapper of a newly published
book. Hence in extended use: a descriptive or commendatory paragraph. Also
Comb. Said to have been originated in 1907 by Gelett Burgess in a comic book
jacket embellished with a drawing of a pulchritudinous young lady whom he
facetiously dubbed Miss Blinda Blurb. (D.A.) See Mencken Amer. Lang. Suppl.
I. 329.

        -- OED


<[broken link]>

The Wordsworth one, at least, is worth a read.


52 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

James De Gaugh said...

Hello, Saw your comments about the Poem "The Purple Cow". Thought you
might like to check out the sequel to it that I wrote. It is located on the website. Under "Poem Search", type in the name " De Gaugh "
, with a space between "De" and "Gaugh". Then just scroll down my poems to
the one entitled "The Purple Cows".Let me know what you think of it. Thanks
James De Gaugh

Phyllis Tess said...

I am looking for a book that has this poem as well as some of Burgess' other whimsical ones in it. Does anything like this exist. I grew up with an Uncle that had a very whimsical personality and he taught me this poem at a very young age and it was a very special thing between us. I now want to teach it to my Granddaughter.
thank you

phyllis tess
director of group sales
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Phoenix said...

The book you are looking for is called "Goops and How Not To Be Them".


corbin17 said...

My grandmother had a porcelain purple cow creamer and used to quote the purple cow poem. I'm glad to know who wrote it.

Jack Taber said...

I have never heard it before this morning. President Bush' campaign
manager recited it on the news today.

danviz said...

I had to memorize this poem in 1968 when I was in the 2nd grade and I have never forgotten it

Paul Campbell said...

I taught this poem to my grandaughter when she was very young. She is now 28 and a school teacher. We heve exchanged purple cow items for birthdays for many years. I now have a Purple Cow Shrine in my home and so does she.

Julia Schmidt said...

I learned this poem in elementary school, but I remember reading sequels to
it. I have no idea, sadly, who the authors were, but the one sequel that I
have never forgotten was:

I never saw a purple cow
I never hoped to see one
But from the milk we're getting now
There certainly must be one!

J Schmidt

Howard Johnson said...

I saw your comments on a web site about Gelett Burgess's "Purple Cow"
in it you said that you had written a sequel to the Purple Cow on
ilovepoetry ,com
it looks like a great website, but I was unable to find any
reference to De Gaugh
I would really love to read it. could you send me a copy if it's
not to much trouble.
Howard Johnson
or hojo120@

Thank you.

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Anonymous said...

My Mother use to quote this poem when I was young. When I was around 16 I was out with friends one day and found a purple cow with two purple calves . I bought them for Mother and years later after she passed I got the cow back and today I told my husband the story behind them. I then looked up the poem as I had not heard it in years and at 72 couldnt remember it. But I found it and sent an email to my grown children to tell them the rest of the story. Just something they can pass down to all their children and grand kids some day.

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