Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Purple Cow and Its Parodies

Saying nursery rhymes to my son recently I happened to quote the famous poem by... well, I had to look up his name: it's Galett Burgess. And as is so common I omitted the first two lines of this six-line poem -- it's usually, but erroneously, treated as a four-line poem. Anyway, here it is, in its majestic entirety:
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

And Wikipedia (bless it) has an image of its original appearance:

...which, you'll note, also leaves off the opening two lines (which definitely are in some versions, e.g. here); so I suppose there's a reason for the common, truncated form of the quotation.

But I've always liked even better the sequel that Burgess wrote -- twenty years after, if the title is to believed. Wikipedia claims that the sequel is "almost as well-known as the original"; in my experience that's not true, although I think it ought to be true: one of several motivations for this little post on the topic. Anyway, the sequel goes like this:
Cinq Ans Apres

(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
It's a good thing I'll never meet the late Mr. Burgess, as he'd have killed me many dozens of times over.

Burgess's poem has inspired numerous parodies -- Wikipedia quotes several, although I'm certain there's more. (For none of the parodies do they quote opening lines to parallel the opening lines of "The Purple Cow"; whether this is an omission by the quoter or the author I don't know.) This is one of the most famous (and justly so), after Burgess's own sequel:
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.

-- Anonymous
(If Martin Gardner couldn't find an author for that one, I suspect it can't be found.)

That one I'd seen before -- in the Gardner collection, I think. This one, however, is new to me -- and, I think, almost as funny:
I never was a vitamin;
I never hope to be one;
but I can tell you anyhow;
I'd rather C than B1!

-- Tom Montgomery
And I also like:
I've never seen a purple cow.
I never hope to see one.
But from the milk we're getting now,
There certainly must be one!

-- Ye Old Prolific Author Anonymous

Oddly, I don't particularly care for the ones by famous writers that are quoted either by Wikipedia (Ogden Nash) nor by Gardner (O. Henry). Not as good as the unknowns and anonymouses, in this case.

And, of course, with all that Purple Cowy Goodness sloshing around in my brain, it was perhaps only a matter of time until I got into the game. So I herewith present a World! Exclusive! Premiere! of Yet Another Parody of "The Purple Cow", by yours truly:
The Purple Postmodernist

Reflections, in a meta way,
On how I'm saying what I now say.

I never pastiched "A Purple Cow",
I'd never hoped to do it;
But reading what I'm writing now
I'm very nearly through it.

-- Stephen Saperstein Frug
And I wish to note for the record that, even an hour before I wrote this, the claim in the antepenultimate line was perfectly true.


Tricia Nicole pickle said...

My grand father had a few ceramic purple cows. You used to tell me this poem

Unknown said...

I no longer have my ceramic purple cow (c. 1950). Just for fun, I'm looking to replace her for old times sake. I've found one online. The poem was on a tag around her neck. I wrote my own parody:

Alas! I've lost my purple cow
I don't know where I tied her;
If it was to a lilac bush
I'll never ever find her.

Anonymous said...

Cinq is five in French. Twenty is vingt. Also, my siblings and I used to recite this sequel to one another if someone said the first poem. We'd get pretty sinister on the "I'll kill you if you quote it" line. We speculated that Burgess was likely fed up with people quoting his poem back to him or sending him fan mail.