Don Marquis and the Cockroach Poet

Don MarquisOn this day in 1878, the writer Don Marquis was born. Even though he was a prolific writer, most people have never heard of him. The only reason I know about him is that I have a habit of roaming libraries. When I had first gone to college, I was looking over the music section and came upon the score of an operetta called Archy and Mehitabel. I read the introduction and found out that it was about Archy, a poetry writing cockroach, and his alley cat chum, Mehitabel. The gag was that after all the reporters had left the office, Archy would jump around on the keys of the keyboard. Because of his limited abilities, he only typed in lowercase, except for that one time when he typed in all uppercase.

Marquis wrote far more than just cockroach poetry, however. In fact, “Archy and Mehitabel” was apparently created as a space filler, because he was writing a newspaper column six days per week. In the old days, this was considered quite the feat. Now in the internet age, it seems to be the norm. But actually, there is a lot of repetition and a lot of stuff that just isn’t worth writing. But Marquis’ output was prodigious. He wrote five novels, five plays, numerous short stories and essays, and lots and lots of poetry.

People seemed to die around Marquis. His son died at the age of six; his daughter died at 13; his first wife died after 14 years of marriage; his second wife died after ten years of marriage; and then he died at the age of 59 of a stroke, although it wasn’t his first one. He still managed to work almost to the end.

Here is a little bit of “certain maxims of archy”:

every cloud
has its silver
lining but it is
sometimes a little
difficult to get it to
the mint

an optimist is a guy
that has never had
much experience

don t cuss the climate
it probably doesn t like you
any better
than you like it

many a man spanks his
children for
things his own
father should have
spanked out of him

prohibition makes you
want to cry
into your beer and
denies you the beer
to cry into

And speaking of Prohibition, check out “a roach of the taverns” about the communal aspects of drink. Archy was a wise cockroach.

Happy birthday Don Marquis!

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