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Poetry by Dorothy Parker

Published: February 6, 2010

She was not the sort of poet one would expect in The Saturday Evening Post. Our humorous poetry was usually written by the likes of Ogden Nash. Nontheless, Dorothy Parker published quite a few poems with us.

Dorothy Parker? She of the caustic wit, the rapier tongue, the put-down from-which-there-is-no-comeback? Indeed, reader, it was she. Her poetry appeared in our magazine long before she had established herself as one of the country’s sharpest and funniest critics.

To say that she was a woman ahead of her time is an understatement.  Half-Scottish and half-Jewish, Ms. Parker was born in 1893 into a tumultuous childhood. Her mother died while Dorothy was still young, and she came to despise her father and step-mother.

She left for New York where she began a promising career at Vanity Fair. She also co-founded the inner circle of America’s literary talent: the Round Table at New York’s Algonquin hotel. There she gained immense respect from the leading writers of the day, and could summon maximum laughter with minimal words, though everyone was wary of her cyical wit. Another member of the Round Table described her as “a blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth.”

Her critical reviews for Vanity Fair were as funny as they were devastating. Writing of actress Marion Davies, Dorothy said she had “only two expressions, joy and indigestion.” She said of Katherine Hepburn that her performance ran the gamut of emotions “from A to B.” In one book review, she wrote, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

She became friends with other Vanity Fair writers: Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood. These three, according to a 1939 Post article, “brought to Vanity Fair a new wit and alertness, but Condé Nast, its publisher, found himself wondering if, perhaps, these qualities were not being achieved at the sacrifice of others more valuable — office discipline, for instance.

There was the time Nast posted a notice forbidding employees to speculate about one another’s salaries. Immediately, Benchley, Parker & Sherwood splashed “$27.50 per” on huge placards and wore them about their necks.”

When Parker proved too critical in their review, Vanity Fair fired her. She and Benchley rented an office from where they could launch their free-lance writing careers.

“They took an office in the Metropolitan Opera House — a triangular room with space enough for a table, two chairs and two typewriters. The only other furniture was a gigantic mirror.

Since the room seemed to lack the personal touch, they soaped on the mirror, “Today’s Special; Yankee Pot Roast, 45¢,” hung up a pennant with the word “Spain,” and had a sign painter letter their door:

UTICA DROP FORGE & TOOL CO.

ROBERT BENCHLEY, PRESIDENT

DOROTHY PARKER, PRESIDENT

Their last preparation was to obtain a cable address: “Park-bench.” The firm of Benchley & Parker was ready for business.”

Dorothy’s personal life was a roller-coaster.  She was married three times, twice to the same man.  (“I require three things of a man,” she said. “He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”)

She moved to Hollywood with her second (and third) husband Alan Campbell in 1933 and worked in the movie industry.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work with “A Star Is Born.”

Politically, her views made her a target of the government during the Cold War era.  She was active in left-wing politics and was red-listed by the studios she had worked for in the anti-communism sentiment that seized Hollywood after World War II.

The poems below are among the scores that were published by the Post.

To A Lady (10/14/22)

Lady, pretty lady, delicate and sweet,
Timorous as April, frolicsome as May,

Many are the hearts that lie beneath your feet
As they go a-dancing down the sunlit way.

Lady, pretty lady, blithe as trilling birds,
Shy as early sunbeams play your sudden smile.

How you quaintly prattle lilting baby words,
Fluttering your helpless little hands the while!

Lady, pretty lady, bright your eyes and blue,
Who could be a-counting all the hearts they broke?

Not a man you meet that doesn’t fall for you;
Lady, pretty lady, how I hope you choke!

Song of the Conventions (2/24/23)

We’d dance, with grapes in our wind-tossed hair,
And garments of swirling smoke;

We’d fling wild song to the amorous air,
Till the long-dead gods awoke.

Our quivering bodies, young and white,
Poised light by the brooklet’s brink,

We’d whirl and leap through the moon-mad night-
But what would the neighbors think?

We’d bid the workaday world go hang,
And idle the seasons through;

We’d pay no tribute of thought or pang
To the world that we once knew.

With hearts in ecstasy intertwined,
In languorous, sweet content,

We’d leave all worry and care behind-
But how would we pay the rent?

We’d roam the universe, hand in hand,
Through tropical climes, or cold,

And find each spot was a wonderland,
A country of pearl and gold.

Our hearts as light as the sunlit foam,
We’d voyage the oceans o’er,

With never a thought for those at home-
But wouldn’t our folks be sore?

A Triolet

You’ll be returning one day.
(such premonitions are true ones.)
Treading the dew-spangled way,
You’ll be returning one day.
I’ll have a few things to say—
I’ve learned a whole lot of new ones.
You’ll be returning, one day.
(Such premonitions are true ones.)

Song (3)

When summer used to linger,
Before the daisies died,
You’d but to bend your finger
And I was by your side.
And, oh, my heart was breaking,
And, oh, my life was through;
You had me for the taking;
“Now run along,” said you.

But now the summer’s over,
The birds have flown away,
And all the amorous clover
Has turned to sober hay.
And you’re the one to tarry,
And you’re the one to sigh,
And beg me, will I marry.
“The deuce I will,” say I.

Grandfather Said It

When I was but a little thing of two, or maybe three,
My granddad—on my mother’s side—would lift me on his knee;
He’d take my thumb from out my mouth and say to me: “My dear,
Remember what I tell you when you’re choosing a career:

“Take in laundry work; cart off dust;
Drive a moving van if you must;
Shovel off the pavement when the snow lies white;
But think of your family, and please don’t write.”

When I was two I cannot say his counsel knocked me cold.
But now it all returns—for, darling, I am growing old,
And when I read the writing of the authors of today
I echo all those golden words that grandpa used to say:

“Clean out ferrboats; peddle fish;
Go be chorus men if you wish;
Rob your neighbors’ houses in the dark midnight;
But think of your families, and please don’t write.”

Update: Added correct picture. Thanks to Kevin for pointing out the error.

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  • Frank James Davis

    I trust no one, Leishalynn–at least, when it comes to the written word.

  • Leishalynn

    “Council” is probably a typo, like the one in “Song of Conventions.” I’m sure “But how would be pay the rent?” should read “But how would we pay the rent?” and I trust Dorothy Parker a lot more than I trust the many semi-literate writers of today, agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiments in “Grandfather Said It.” Say it again!

  • Frank James Davis

    The wittiest of all the Algonquin wits.
    In her poem, “Grandfather Said It,” however, hard to ignore probable misuse of the word “council.” “Counsel,” I believe, should have been the choice.

  • Kevin Fitzpatrick

    That is a photo illustration of the wrong Dorothy Parker. This is a pianist, not the writer. The Library of Congress photo archive has it wrong. You can see the difference on dorothyparker.com

    Parker wrote for the Post from 1920-1923, publishing 17 poems. These are collected in The Portable Dorothy Parker and Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker. Parker published six long articles in the Post, starting in the May 22, 1920 issue. In addition, she contributed 10 pieces to “Short Turns and Encores” from 1922-1923.

    Parker was already an established member of the Algonquin Round Table by 1920, when her submissions to the Post began. At this time she was the regular drama critic for Ainslee’s. All of this is explained in the book, A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

  • Margaret Gleeson

    Dorothy Parker…my new favorite poet. This story has inspired me to learn more.

  • charlene Van Slyke

    A women that dared to be different…
    Chopping the satus quo..
    complete abandonment
    No matter public opinion.
    What a trail.
    But the pain
    Oh the pain.

    You did a wonderful potrayal
    Of this woman
    I so admire her
    Thank you for this story