There was a young fellow named Sidney
Who drank till he ruined his kidney
It shriveled and shrank
As he sat there and drank
But he had a good time of it, didn’e?

DON MARQUIS told some of his tallest tales in a few lines of poetry, and he delivered keen observations on life in a single sentence. While history applauds him for “archy and mehitabel” and “The Old Soak,” some of his most enjoyable work remains hidden in books that have been out of print for generations and in newspaper and magazine clippings that have never been collected until now.

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Don’s most popular poem during his lifetime was “Noah an’ Jonah an’ Cap’n John Smith,” a rambling farce, told in backwoods dialect, about three fishing buddies with unique knowledge of the subject at hand. The poem first appeared in Don’s Sun Dial column in the New York Evening Sun, and he reprinted it at least a half-dozen times “at the request of readers.” (“Noah” ran the full length of Don’s column — 23 inches, top to bottom — and was a handy, last-minute filler on those rare occasions when he ran short of ideas or took a day off.) The poem was included in two of Don’s books and was the title of one of them. Soon after Don’s death in 1937, his closest friends rented a Broadway theater for a night to present a memorial program that mixed equal amounts of laughter and tears. By all accounts, the reading of this poem was the highlight of the evening.

* * *

Some of Don’s funniest verses are in a 1922 book with an impossibly long title: “Sonnets to a Red-Haired Lady (By a Gentleman with a Blue Beard) and Famous Love Affairs.” While the sonnets are clever enough, this reader found his favorite poetry among the Famous Love Affairs. There’s “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Paris and Helen” and more than a dozen other smirky stories that take their cue from improbable sources such as the Bible and the writings of Homer and Shakespeare.

* * *

“A Scientific Note” is a light farce that grew out of a news clipping Don spotted sometime prior to 1921. “The transplanting of bones in the human body is entirely possible,” the story reported, and it got Don’s mind working.

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And then there’s “archy and mehitabel,” Don’s greatest legacy. Two dozen archy stories are available on the Reading Room page, but no collection of light verse would be complete without a few of the shortest, funniest lines from that determined cockroach: “certain maxims of archy.”

* * *

If cremation became universal, some of us would lose our one chance of owning real estate.

* * *

The humorist is a philosopher who breaks the sad news gently because he is so sorry for the world.

* * *

The caterpillar just eats and loafs and sleeps — and after awhile, without any effort, it turns into a butterfly, with nothing to do but flit around and be beautiful. And the tumblebug toils and pants and sweats and worries, pushing its burden up hill forever, like Sisyphus, and pretty soon some one comes along and thinks how vulgar and ugly it is, and steps on it and squashes it. Idleness and beauty are their own rewards.

* * *

A charlatan is often a great man who was found out just a bit too soon by reporters and historians.

* * *

The sort of man who brags about his ancestors is never bragged about by his descendants.

* * *

Thrift is a fine thing . . . in one’s parents.

* * *

Drinking used to be a mighty commonplace matter; but Prohibition has brought a smack of adventure into it that makes it really enjoyable.

* * *

One trouble about resisting a temptation is that it may never come again.

* * *

The golden days one wastes in toil
Will nevermore return!
The proper sort of midnight oil
was made to drink, not burn!

* * *

No trick or kick of fate
Can raise from me a yell –
Serene, I sit and wait
For the world to go to hell.

* * *

Diet Suggestions:

Octopusses, clams and eels
Take too much water with their meals;

While ants, upon the other hand,
Dine too exclusively on sand

One should be careful how he eats
Vegetables, fruits or meats.

Neither abstain too much, nor gobble ‘em –
The proper course is quite a problem.

* * *

If all the water on the globe
Should turn to beer and ale
I’d cast conventions to the wind
And play I was a whale

* * *

When it gets so hot your eyeballs melt
And trickle down your bosom
Do not despair, though I admit
‘Tis rather hard to lose ‘em;

When it gets so hot your ears crisp up
Like two well-done fried eggs
And the friction sets your knees afire
And the flames wrap round your legs,

Buck up! and take a cheerful view,
Say, “Really, all is well –
We may believe that it’s hot on earth,
But they’d call this cool in hell!”