Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Dorothy Parker — A Musing in Death

Dorothy Parker once opined that her epitaph should read, "Excuse my dust."

On the anniversary of her death in 1967, we remember the poet and critic who had a strange if not morbid fascination with death. As often as she wrote about suicide, Dorothy Parker died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

Her poetry was primarily constructed in rhyming couplets that took playful jabs at: death (such as in Epitaph with it's closing couplet of, "And I lie here warm, and I lie here dry, / And watch the worms slip by, slip by."); herself (in Observation which closes with, "But I shall stay the way I am, / Because I do not give a damn."); love (Little Words concludes with, "I turn to little words- so you, my dear, / Can spell them out."); and of those in her literary circle — the fabled Algonquin Round Table — (in the very catty Bohemia, Parker writes, "Diarists, critics, and similar roe / Never say nothing, and never say no..").

The following three poems — by Dorothy Parker — give a glimpse into her muse. Death.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Rhyme Against Living

If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide;
If cool my heart and high my head,
I think, 'How lucky are the dead!'


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.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

As remarkable as her life was, Dorothy Parker's death took on a bizarre life of it's own.

She bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Following King's assassination Parker's estate was left in the care of the NAACP. A provision that her literary executor, the esteemed playwright Lillian Hellman fought tooth and nail to void unsuccessfully.

In part because of Hellman's objection the ashes of Dorothy Parker remained in a drawer in a lawyer's office for close to 20 years.

It was not until 1988, when the NAACP built a memorial garden for her at it's Baltimore headquarters that Parker was finally laid to rest.

Her epitaph includes her chosen words, "Excuse my dust."

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