Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Favourite Cockroach

Archy made his first appearance in print in 1916 on the keys of Don Marquis' typewriter. First published in the New York Sun, Archy was originally a vers libre poet whose soul migrated into the body of a cockroach:
i did not believe in the
doctrine of transmigration of
souls but after it happened how could i refuse to credit it

George Harriman's illustrations nicely captured Archy's quirky personality.

Forced to dive at each key separately, the little bug couldn't operate the shift key at the same time as a letter key. As a result, none of his poetry had the benefit of capital letters or punctuation.

Marquis shared this observation about Archy: "After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of poems which are always there in profusion..."

This is definitely one of my favourite Archy missives:

the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening

he was trying to break into

an electric light bulb

and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional

thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered

candle instead of an electric

light bulb you would

now be a small unsightly cinder

have you no sense

plenty of it he answered

but at times we get tired

of using it

we get bored with the routine

and crave beauty

and excitement
fire is beautiful

and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter

it is better to be happy
for a moment

and be burned up with beauty

than to live a long time
and be bored all the while

so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll

that is what life is for
it is better to be part of beauty

for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever

and never be a part of beauty

our attitude toward life

is come easy go easy

we are like human beings

used to be before they became

too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before I could argue him
out of his philosophy

he went and immolated himself

on a patent cigar lighter

i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have

half the happiness and twice

the longevity

but at the same time i wish

there was something i wanted

as badly as he wanted to fry himself

- archy

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