Readers can explore ten of the best poems Dorothy Parker wrote throughout her life on this list. They engage with themes as different as suicide, heartbreak, and the death of dreams. No matter one’s personal history, there will be a poem on this list that feels relatable and inspiring.
Best Dorothy Parker Poems
But Not Forgotten
In this well-loved Dorothy Parker poem, the poet’s speaker spends the lines discussing how influential their memory and spirit will be on “you.”The poet suggests that the speaker may have passed away and could be speaking the poem’s lines from the afterlife. The speaker believes it will take a long time for “you” to “forget” her hands and the way she speaks. She even believes that this person will “tell later loves” about her. The poet writes:
I think, no matter where you stray,
That I shall go with you a way.
Though you may wander sweeter lands,
You will not soon forget my hands,
Nor yet the way I held my head,
‘The Choice’ is a very well-known poem that displays Parker’s skill with language and her much-loved wit. She contrasts two men. One gives her everything she could ask for, such as pearls and “laces rare.” The other only sings and whistles. Despite the difference, she follows the latter wherever he goes and lets the first, seemingly more giving, man go. The poem begins with:
He’d have given me rolling lands,
Houses of marble, and billowing farms,
Pearls, to trickle between my hands,
Smoldering rubies, to circle my arms.
You- you’d only a lilting song,
This entertaining poem outlines what one person has in their life and what they would be better off without. Some of these things are easy to understand, while others are somewhat more up for interpretation. For example, she writes that she’d be better off without “Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.” She also says:
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
A Fairly Sad Tale
Dorothy Parker’s ‘A Fairly Sad Tale’ begins with the lines: “I think that I shall never know / Why I am thus, and I am so.” She describes how the people she’s met throughout life, specifically when it came to romantic relationships, were overwhelmingly disappointing. She writes:
They broke my heart, they stilled my song,
And said they had to run along,
Explaining, so to sop my tears,
First came their parents or careers.
But ever does experience
Deny me wisdom, calm, and sense!
On Being a Woman
‘On Being a Woman’ is one of Parker’s best-known poems. Throughout, the poet shares her thoughts on what it means to be a woman. Much of the poem is humorous and can be interpreted as satire. She goes back and forth between loving the person with whom she’s in a relationship and then being “spectacularly bored” with him. She writes:
Why is it, when I am in Rome,
I’d give an eye to be at home,
But when on native earth I be,
My soul is sick for Italy?
A Certain Lady
‘A Certain Lady’ is a well-known Parker poem that uses clear, expressive language. The speaker mourns the fact that the person she loves does not love her in return. She wants this person to spend as much time with her as possible, but her affection is not returned with the same degree of dedication. She writes:
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
One Perfect Rose
This beautiful poem was published in Enough Rope in 1926. It speaks about the cliches of love and the speaker’s desire to experience something new. For example, she states that she is tired of roses and is more interested in other displays of love. The poet writes:
I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
‘Autumn Valentine’ speaks about two parts of a person’s pain. First, when the pain was new and then once it had endured for a period of time. The speaker suggests that pain linked to good memories must be embraced. Because if you push the pain away, you’ll also be pushing away the good memories. She begins the poem with:
In May my heart was breaking-
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
A Dream Lies Dead
‘A Dream Lies Dead’ is a sorrowful sonnet that describes the death of dreams. It’s important, the poet writes, to show respect for the metaphorical place where a dream died. One should refrain from engaging in too much outwardly sorrowful behavior, such as weeping. Instead, there should be silence. She continues to say:
Whenever one drifted petal leaves the tree-
Though white of bloom as it had been before
And proudly waitful of fecundity-
One little loveliness can be no more;
Dorothy Parker’s ‘Resumé’ explores themes of death and suicide as well as free choice and life. Each of these is tied up in the ability, or lack thereof, to end one’s life. She brings readers through seven different ways to take one’s own life (guns, razors, gas, and more). But, the poet implies that her speaker is not willing to fully commit to one of these techniques. She writes:
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
‘The Choice’ and ‘But Not Forgotten’ are two Dorothy Parker poems sometimes cited as the poet’s best. Other well-known pieces include ‘Resumé’ and ‘A Dream Lies Dead.’
Dorothy Parker often wrote about heartbreak, love affairs, the purpose of life, her dreams, and the fluidity of opinion. Other poems deal with more challenging themes like suicide and losing loved ones.
‘The Choice’ is about two different men the speaker is courted by. One gives her a variety of material possessions, while the other seems to have nothing to offer. She goes with the latter despite the fact that it seems to be the wrong choice.