Readers are likely to have different reactions to this poem depending on their own relationship to the things mentioned. Some may find themselves empathizing with Parker’s speaker’s state of being in ‘Inventory,’ while others may find themselves confused over why she wants one thing and wants to get rid of another.
‘Inventory’ by Dorothy Parker is an interesting poem in which the speaker outlines what her life is now and what it’ll be like in the future.
The poem takes the reader through things the speaker has, will never have, knows, and would be better off without. Some of these are things she wants to be rid of, while others are those she’ll never get enough of. Through these simple lines, the reader can get a picture of whom this person is and what her life is like on a day-to-day basis. They may even find themselves connecting to some of the things she wants or wants to get rid of.
You can read the full poem here.
Stanzas One and Two
Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
In the first two-line stanza, the speaker begins by noting that there are four things that she’s wiser for understanding. These are idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe. These are simple statements that allude to much more complicated and specific situations. The speaker has her own relationship with each one of these listed items, just as the listener will. Each person who reads this poem is going to understand “friend, and foe” and “Idleness, sorrow” in different ways.
The speaker is likely suggesting that it’s better to know idleness in order to avoid it and to know sorrow in order to appreciate the opposite. The next two lines are even more interesting.
The speaker says that she’d be better off without “Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.” Once again, these are quite specific and suggest a much deeper meaning. The speaker is likely struggling with the first two and is thinking that she’d rather do away with them altogether and has in the past struggled with the others. Freckles and doubt are two very different things to be worried about, but they do add a great deal of personality to the poem.
Stanzas Three and Four
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
In the third stanza of ‘Inventory,’ the speaker continues to use the literary device accumulation in order to list out more things that she’s interested in discussing. This time, she’s thinking about the “things I shall never attain.” This is a very serious statement that is made all the more complicated by the different contrasting things she lists. For example, “Envy” and “sufficient champagne” are quite different from one another, especially in this context. The speaker is clearly considering various aspects of her life and bringing them all together to create, as the title suggests, an inventory.
The final stanza brings in three things that the speaker will have until she dies. They are “Laughter, and hope and a sock in the eye.” Once again, readers are presented with a contrast. It’s clear that the first two are things that one would want to have for the rest of their life. The third, though, is not. But, it appears that it’s something she knows she’s going to have whether she wants to or not. It suggests that she’s going to continue to push the boundaries of her life.
Structure and Form
‘Inventory’ by Dorothy Parker is a four-stanza poem that is divided into sets of two lines, known as couplets. These couplets follow a simple rhyme scheme of AA BB CC DD. The poem is also written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. Often, the majority of a poem may use this pattern with a few lines that break it.
Throughout this piece, Parker makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Parallelism: occurs when the writer repeats the same line structure. In this case, the first lines of stanzas one and two are examples as are the first lines of stanzas three and four.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “friend” and “foe” in line two of stanza one and “been better” in line one of stanza two.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in to the middle of a line. For example, “Four be the things I’d been better without.” This can be done either through the use of meter or through the specific placement of punctuation.
The tone is direct and knowledgeable. The speaker knows exactly what her life is and what it will be like in the future. There is no doubting her words, nor is there any hesitation. This determination adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece.
The poet wrote this piece likely to outline a specific way her life is now and how it’s going to change or remain the same in the future. Readers are asked to consider the relevance and interest of the things mentioned in the lines, and they may connect them to their own life.
The themes the poet engages within this poem include the future and the nature of life. The speaker spends the lines discussing what she does and doesn’t have in her life, as well as how it’ll change and how it’ll stay the same.
Readers are likely to walk away from this piece entertained, confused, and feeling empathetic. The poet takes readers through a wide array of feelings and experiences. Some of these are going to be easier to relate to than others evoking a difference in opinion among those considering them.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Inventory’ should also consider reading other Dorothy Parker poems. For example:
- ‘A Certain Lady’ – a fairly short poem in which the speaker mourns the fact that the person she loves does not love her in return.
- ‘On Being a Woman’ – a humorous short poem about the poet’s unpredictable mind. This poem highlights how the poet thinks about love.
- ‘One Perfect Rose’ – an endearing and somewhat depressing poem that alludes to the tired clichés of love and a speaker’s desire for more.