Dorothy Parker (nastily, on writing and action)

I was writing a blog post, prompted by a prodding sense of injustice (and by

Check out the (apocryphal?) story of her being able to crack wise even with a bland word like "horticulture".

Check out the (apocryphal?) story of her being able to crack wise even with a bland word like “horticulture”.

the jabbing forefingers of two friends). It was about the ongoing imprisonment of seven Baha’is in Tehran jails for the most lunatic of perceived crimes. It felt good to do something, but I was plagued by a looming appreciation of the void between the high sincerity of my action and the narrow scope of my influence. I felt a little like the acid-penned lit-wit Dorothy Parker, who wrote this “Song of Perfect Propriety” as a roaring declaration of desire, followed immediately by a meek admission of the narrow confines of female possibility in her time. It’s funny, smart and more than a little laugh-so-you-don’t-cry. This was going to be my readers’ Hey, You Read the Whole Bloody Thing! reward for getting to the end of the piece on the Quietly Magnificent Seven, but it didn’t fit no matter which way I turned it. Fortunately, my handy, dandy and rarely randy He Said/She Said section is perfectly suited for ballast from other pieces. So here’s Dorothy, fantasizing about the drama and reckless doing of another sort of life, lamenting that it will never be hers. Friends, a sublimely nasty and only slightly ridiculous poem:

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 sounds-
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.”


Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was best-known as a caustic wit, a bon vivant poet, columnist and screenwriter, and later in a less-appreciated phase as an activist. (Perhaps she was not as jaded as she appears, though she was certainly depressive and cynical about how great modern life was.) Two favourite Wiki-facts: 1. The Portable Dorothy Parker remains in print; the only two others that did are The Portable Bible and The Portable Shakespeare. She DID have a way with words. 2. She left her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and has a small monument in her honour near the headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

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