There’s a short little poem by Gelett Burgess titled “The Purple Cow” that I dearly love.
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.
The full title is “The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least.” Most people leave off the second line of the title.
Pity too because that’s where the essence of Burgess’ poem lies. A purple cow stands out, a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable. Most people don’t want to be Purple Cows. Conformity is comfortable.
The poem appeared in the first edition of his humorous little magazine The Lark in 1895. It’s fun. It’s silly and that was Burgess’ trademark.
I’ve quoted the words a gazillion times myself. As did United States President Harry S. Truman when asked if he’d ever seen a UFO. He substituted UFO for the purple cow.
But Burgess tired of the poem’s popularity and pinned this rebuttal, which he published in The Lark three years later.
Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!
Maybe Burgess didn’t personally want to be considered remarkable. In reality, he was. Some say his works inspired Dr. Seuss.
The Gelett Burgess Center for creative expression, organized to honor his creativity, gives The Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Awards yearly. It’s not the Caldecott, but still a prestigious honor for a children’s book.
Burgess also coined the word blurb in 1907. He introduced the term on the cover copy of his book, Are You a Bromide? using a quote from Miss Belinda Blurb.
His definition is “a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial.” I’m not sure such a blurb on a book in our 21st century would be as well received.What do you think?