the cockroach who had been to hell by Don Marquis

listen to me i have
been mobbed almost
theres an old simp cockroach
here who thinks he has
been to hell and all
the young cockroaches make a
hero out of him and admire
him he sits and runs his front
feet through his long white
beard and tells the story one
day he says he crawled into a yawning
cavern and suddenly came on a
vast abyss full of whirling
smoke there was a light
at the bottom billows
and billows of yellow smoke
swirled up at him and
through the horrid gloom he
saw things with wings flying
and dropping and dying they veered
and fluttered like damned
spirits through that sulphurous mist

listen i says to him
old man youve never been to hell
at all there isn t any hell
transmigration is the game i
used to be a human vers libre
poet and i died and went
into a cockroach s body if
there was a hell id know
it wouldn t i you re
irreligious says the old simp
combing his whiskers excitedly
ancient one i says to him
while all those other
cockroaches gathered into a
ring around us what you
beheld was not hell all that
was natural some one was fumigating
a room and you blundered
into it through a crack
in the wall atheist he cries
and all those young
cockroaches cried atheist
and made for me if it
had not been for freddy
the rat i would now be
on my way once more i mean
killed as a cockroach and transmigrating
into something else well
that old whitebearded devil is
laying for me with his
gang he is jealous
because i took his glory away
from him dont ever tell me
insects are any more liberal
than humans

archy (“archy and mehitabel,” 1927)

Note: Don Marquis was a writer for The Evening Sun in New York when, in 1916, he introduced Archy and Mehitabel to his readers. Archy was a cockroach with the soul of a free verse poet, and Mehitabel was an alley cat who claimed she was Cleopatra in a previous life. Together they wrote a series of day-to-day adventures that made satiric commentary on daily life in New York. Being a cockroach, Archy had to jump on to each key of the typewriter in order to type. He could not, therefore, use the shift key simultaneously with any other key, which explains why his verse was written without capitalisation or punctuation.

Vocabulary: Transmigration is the passage of the soul after death into another body. Vers libre is French for free verse.

With thanks to Jason Preater for introducing me to Don Marquis.

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About russellboyle.com

Russell Boyle, of russellboyle.com, is a mathematics teacher, writer, and poet. Russell is the author of a number of teaching resources, including the Year 7 to 8 Mathematics Short-Answer Tasks, the Year 7 to 10 Mathematics Multiple-Choice Tasks, the solutions to the Year 12 VCAA Mathematics Exams and the Web-Programming For Beginners series of courses. Russell's poetry anthologies are titled The Beginning, Footprints and Loneliness.
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7 Responses to the cockroach who had been to hell by Don Marquis

  1. katwalk65 says:

    Reblogged this on We have no Secrets and commented:
    listen to me i have
    been mobbed almost
    theres an old simp cockroach
    here who thinks he has
    been to hell and all
    the young cockroaches make a
    hero out of him and admire
    him he sits and runs his front
    feet through his long white
    beard and tells the story one
    day he says he crawled into a yawning
    cavern and suddenly came on a
    vast abyss full of whirling
    smoke there was a light
    at the bottom billows
    and billows of yellow smoke
    swirled up at him and
    through the horrid gloom he
    saw things with wings flying
    and dropping and dying they veered
    and fluttered like damned
    spirits through that sulphurous mist

  2. russellboyle says:

    A delightful little story! Your dad must have been very proud of his little girl. When I was eight years-of-age, I don’t think I knew what an autobiography was and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to spell the word “cockroach.” I too wish I was a fraction as talented as Marquis. Thank you for dropping by and for leaving me with this wonderful anecdote from your childhood. Enjoy the rest of your evening.

  3. When I was a little girl — not much older than eight, I don’t think — I sat at a table writing a short autobiography of a cockroach. My dad stood over me, and started reading what I had written. Not knowing what my narrative was about, he grew really curious about phrases like ‘I crawled under the table, and up its leg…’. “You are writing a peculiar story,” he said. “It’s the life of a cockroach, dad,” I replied. He was stunned. I wish I was a fraction as talented as Marquis.

    Love this post. Thank you for sharing.

  4. indytony says:

    I’ve never given much thought to the liberality of insects. I’d like to think we’re not the only species on the planet with a consciousness of God, but maybe I’m hoping against hope.

    Anyway, this is a fun poem. Thanks for posting it.

  5. that was great i d like to read it again some time he s quite funny ha ha

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