Monday Poem: “A Certain Lady” by Dorothy Parker

The Monday Poem

Dorothy Parker is another poet I have a great deal of affection for. Her work is so fierce, and so funny, that it speaks to me on several different levels, and she always seems to have something pithy to say.

A Certain Lady by Dorothy Parker

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,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.

Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, —
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go….
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.

Courtesy of oldpoetry.com.

What I like about this poem in particular is that each time I read it I find it funny or sad or both depending on my mood. Clearly, in the first verse, the narrator is dealing with a man whose affections she can’t trust — he tells her of his romantic conquests, apparently oblivious to how she feels about him. In the second stanza, she builds on this: this is how he wants her, to be impressed with him, so that’s how she acts, even though it tears her up inside. But — and here’s the kicker — in the end we see a marvelous little twist; rather than pine away for him, as she initially implies, the narrator actually has her own conquests to make, her own secrets to keep.

It’s a wonderfully layered poem and one that has stayed with me since I first read it several years ago.

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  1. Yes, that’s a wonderful poem. All DP’s stuff is kind of funny and sad at the same time. But the other stuff I’ve read is more tilted towards the funny. Thanks for sharing this!

      • Black Sheep
      • May 18th, 2010

      That’s pretty much what I love about her work. She’s not technically innovative, perhaps, but she has a great gift for poignant humour. Definitely worth reading, anyway! Glad you enjoyed the poem 🙂

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