Many of Don Marquis’ funniest pieces have never been published in books. Unless they involved Archy or Mehitabel, or the Old Soak, almost none of the sketches, poems and smart-aleck observations that made his newspaper columns so much fun were include in later compilations
The following poem is one of those forgotten gems. It’s from one of Don’s earliest columns in the New York Evening Sun – before the column got its name, “The Sun Dial,” and even before Don was given a byline. It has never been directly attributed to him until now.
Don was hired at the Evening Sun in January 1912 as a feature page editor, but he quickly moved to the editorial page. Besides writing full-length editorials he also contributed filler material, much of it in the form of single paragraphs under a standing headline, “Notes,” and then “Notes and Comment.”
By August 1912 “Notes and Comment” had been given a permanent home on the right side of the editorial page, and on Sept. 23, 1912, at the top of the column was a poem titled “The Spartan Oyster.” Its preposterous theme and clever wordplay identify the poem as Don’s handiwork, and it was precisely this sort of inspired lunacy that made his readers – and editors – stop and take notice. Don’s byline was added to the column on April 4, 1913, and it was renamed “The Sun Dial” three days later. The rest, as they say, is history.
“The Spartan Oyster”
Dr. Wiley says that the oyster cannot tell the pain it suffers when it is served on the half shell. – News Item.
– – –
The dogfish bark and whimper,
The Catfish mew and whine,
But the oyster suffers in silence
That man in peace may dine;
There are no roistering oysters,
They are Spartan from their birth;
There are no boisterous oysters,
Whether in grief or mirth!
The peanut screams in the roaster,
The popcorn bursts with a cry,
And the blood of the stabbed tomatoes
Flows red as they writhe and die;
And when the cloistered oysters
Are plucked from their quiet cells
Grief makes ’em moister oysters,
But never an oyster yells!
– – –
And indeed the whole clam family has a reputation for reticence.