Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Purple Cow by Gelett Burgess

The Purple Cow

(Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least.)
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.
--Gelett Burgess

First published in 1895, this prompted lots of parodies, for example:
O.Henry wrote:
I never beat a rotten egg,
I never hope to beat one;
But this you'll understand, I beg,
I'd rather beat than eat one.

And here's an anonymous example:
I've never seen a purple cow,
My eyes with tears are full.
I've never seen a purple cow,
And I'm a purple bull.

In desperation, Burgess retorted:
O 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.

As Peter and I were driving up Interstate 5 last weekend, we were amazed to see the wide variety of agriculture that goes on in California. It seemed like there was something different growing on every farm. We saw grapes and oranges, which we knew grew in Ca, but we also saw cotton, apricots, pistachios, and almonds for sure, and several other things I couldn't identify. It was certainly a change from driving past a hundred miles of corn at a time like you do in Nebraska.

At one point, we started smelling that distinctive livestock smell. We had seen cows and sheep grazing, so we weren't particularly surprised, but there were none to be seen on this particular stretch of road. The smell got stronger and stronger for about 10 minutes, and then we came around a bend and could see a valley between two hills. There were solid cows as far as the eye could see. Seriously, there must have been thousands of them -- or maybe even ten thousands. It was hard to get a clear idea because we only caught glimpses between hills, but there were more cows there than I've ever seen in my whole life. Even in movies, they generally only have a couple of hundred at a time, and this was on another order of magnitude altogether. The cows looked like they were pretty well taken care of. There were awnings set up to give many of them shade, and they were also sprinkling the whole lot of them with water from one of those giant irrigation sprinklers. All the same, I don't imagine they intended to keep any given cows there for very long. The only thing you could do with so many cows at a time is turn them into meat.


  1. I have always wondered who wrote the purple cow thing. I wrote one similar in phrasing.

    I hope that Ishall never see,
    A woman squatting down to pee.
    But let me say, I'd rather see,
    Than on the ground beneath her be.

    Andy Mudd after an unusual religious tent revival in North Carolina.

  2. Love the poem.
    Where did you get that purple cow graphic??

  3. Most of my graphics other than personal photos are from Google Image searching