Taking 'Inventory' with Dorothy Parker

Taking 'Inventory' with Dorothy Parker
Source: Reusableart.com

The witty American writer Dorothy Parker (b. 1893) takes up just under half a page in my edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. When I looked at her entries recently, I was amused by new things about even the more familiar quotations -- for instance:

"Men seldom make passes

at girls who wear glasses."

That turns out to be from a larger piece of writing called "News Item." (I'm skeptical of just when it was news.)

Parker's observant wit shines best in a poem I'd never encountered before, "Inventory." It's presented as two quotations, but I'll run them together. Consider them as part of your own year-end inventory.

"Four be the things I am wiser to know:

Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe."


"Four be the things I'd been better without:

Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt."

Better without love? I doubt it, but somehow I'm glad not to be able to get into a verbal sparring match with Dorothy Parker!

For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.

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  • Freckles probably not either. The Ginger Phile appears to be still here, but I am sure she wouldn't agree with Parker.

    One probably needs curiosity.

    Doubt is similar to stress. You probably don't want doubt, but as they say about stress, if you didn't have any you would be comatose.

  • In reply to jack:

    Observant as always. Thank you.

  • One of my favorite Parker poems is "Resume".

    "Razors pain you,
    Rivers are damp
    Acids stain you,
    Drugs cause cramp.

    Guns aren't lawful,
    Nooses give.
    Gas smells awful,
    You might as well live."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Is the subtitle "Ode to sewercide?"

    From her Goodreads page, which includes the above: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to." I've heard the converse "no need for a collection plate, I'll throw it in the air, and God can keep what He wants."

    Also, she wasn't consistent, as there is a "how lucky are the dead" at the bottom of that page.

    Finally, I wonder how the Sarah Silverman of a century ago got away with it then. Maybe because it was in verse.

  • In reply to jack:

    She was liberated woman who had a saucy way with words.

    "I like to have a martini,
    Two at the very most.
    After three I'm under the table.
    After four I'm under the host."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    See my reply to Jack... verse helps get away with things.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Especially she seemed to have a way with "horticulture" and "hormone."

    I suppose that being published in The New Yorker helped, as well as use of verse. I can sort of see her work hanging out with Charles Addams cartoons, although many of the quotations show a depressed view of love, to which I can relate.

  • In reply to jack:

    Her Goodreads page? Looks to me like pages and pages. I had been resisting the site, but for Dorothy Parker, it felt appropriate to give in! Thanks.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I saw the "next" link after posting. However, the quotes on the first page seemed the better ones.

  • In reply to jack:

    I think you're on to something there, Jack. Verse helps.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I wonder how something so dark can be so funny, too. Bartlett's used only the second half, so thanks for filling me in!

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