Poems of Dorothy Parker

From the Book: Portable Dorothy Parker


The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints.
So far, I have had no complaints.

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.

Portrait of the Artist

Oh, lead me to a quiet cell
Where never footfall rankles,
And bar the window passing well,
And gyve my wrists and ankles.

Oh, wrap my eyes with linen fair,
With hempen cord go bind me,
And, of your mercy, leave me there,
Nor tell them where to find me.

Oh, lock the portal as you go,
And see its bolts be double….
Come back in half an hour or so,
And I will be in trouble.


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.

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.


Lilacs blossom just as sweet
Now my heart is shattered.
If I bowled it down the street,
Who’s to say it mattered?
If there’s one that rode away
What would I be missing?
Lips that taste of tears, they say,
Are the best for kissing.

Eyes that watch the morning star
Seem a little brighter;
Arms held out to darkness are
Usually whiter.
Shall I bar the strolling guest,
Bind my brow with willow,
When, they say, the empty breast
Is the softer pillow?

That a heart falls tinkling down,
Never think it ceases.
Every likely lad in town
Gathers up the pieces.
If there’s one gone whistling by
Would I let it grieve me?
Let him wonder if I lie;
Let him half believe me.


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.

The Red Dress

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I’d have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there’d be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood….
I have the silly gown.

A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature

The Lives and Times of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron
Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of Iyrical treats.
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
    Of Byron and Shelley,
    Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Oscar Wilde
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.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
The pure and worthy Mrs. Stowe
Is one we all are proud to know
As mother, wife, and authoress-
Thank God, I am content with less!

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

Thomas Carlyle
Carlyle combined the lit’ry life
With throwing teacups at his wife,
Remarking, rather testily,
"Oh, stop your dodging, Mrs. C.!"

Charles Dickens
Who call him spurious and shoddy
Shall do it o’er my lifeless body.
I heartily invite such birds
To come outside and say those words!

Alexandre Dumas and His Son
Although I work, and seldom cease,
At Dumas pere and Dumas fils,
Alas, I cannot make me care
For Dumas fils and Dumas pere.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Should Heaven send me any son,
I hope he’s not like Tennyson.
I’d rather have him play a fiddle
Than rise and bow and speak an idyll.

George Gissing
When I admit neglect of Gissing,
They say I don’t know what I’m missing.
Until their arguments are subtler,
I think I’ll stick to Samuel Butler.

Walter Savage Landor
Upon the work of Walter Landor
I am unfit to write with candor.
If you can read it, well and good;
But as for me, I never could.

George Sand
What time the gifted lady took
Away from paper, pen, and book,
She spent in amorous dalliance
(They do those things so well in France).


If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;

Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.

But I have no lethal weapon-
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.


If I were mild, and I were sweet,
And laid my heart before your feet,
And took my dearest thoughts to you,
And hailed your easy lies as true;
Were I to murmur "Yes," and then
"How true, my dear," and "Yes," again,
And wear my eyes discreetly down,
And tremble whitely at your frown,
And keep my words unquestioning
My love, you’d run like anything!

Should I be frail, and I be mad,
And share my heart with every lad,
But beat my head against the floor
What times you wandered past my door;
Were I to doubt, and I to sneer,
And shriek "Farewell!" and still be here,
And break your joy, and quench your trust-
I should not see you for the dust!


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?

Superfluous Advice

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


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?

The Danger of Writing Defiant Verse

And now I have another lad!
No longer need you tell
How all my nights are slow and sad
For loving you too well.

His ways are not your wicked ways,
He’s not the like of you.
He treads his path of reckoned days,
A sober man, and true.

They’ll never see him in the town,
Another on his knee.
He’d cut his laden orchards down,
If that would pleasure me.

He’d give his blood to paint my lips
If I should wish them red.
He prays to touch my finger-tips
Or stroke my prideful head.

He never weaves a glinting lie,
Or brags the hearts he’ll keep.
I have forgotten how to sigh-
Remembered how to sleep.

He’s none to kiss away my mind-
A slower way is his.
Oh, Lord! On reading this, I find
A silly lot he is.


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.

The Lady’s Reward

Lady, lady, never start
Conversation toward your heart;
Keep your pretty words serene;
Never murmur what you mean.
Show yourself, by word and look,
Swift and shallow as a brook.
Be as cool and quick to go
As a drop of April snow;
Be as delicate and gay
As a cherry flower in May.
Lady, lady, never speak
Of the tears that burn your cheek-
She will never win him, whose
Words had shown she feared to lose.
Be you wise and never sad,
You will get your lovely lad.
Never serious be, nor true,
And your wish will come to you-
And if that makes you happy, kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.

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