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Phyllis McGinley

  • Relations are errors that Nature makes. / Your spouse you can put on the shelf. / But your friends, dear friends, are the quaint mistakes / You always commit yourself.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Marginal Notes," On the Contrary ()
  • Let others deck them as they please / In frill and furbelow. / She scorns alike the fripperies / Of flowers and of snow.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "November," One More Manhattan ()
  • I sing Connecticut, her charms / Of rivers, orchards, blossoming ridges. / I sing her gardens, fences, farms, / Spiders and midges.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Bouquets for Connecticut," One More Manhattan ()
  • Oh, princes thrive on caviar, the poor on whey and curds, / And politicians, I infer, must eat their windy words. / It's crusts that feed the virtuous, it's cake that comforts sinners, / But writers live on bread and praise at Literary Dinners.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Advice to a Tot About to Learn the Alphabet," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • Sons do not need you. / They're always out of your reach; / Walking strange waters.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Old Woman With Four Sons," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • No candidate too pallid, / No issue too remote, / But it can snare / A questionnaire / To analyze our vote.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Ballad of the Preëlection Vote," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • How happy is the Optimist / To whom life shows its sunny side / His horse may lose, his ship may list, / But he always sees the funny side.

  • O, merry is the Optimist, / With the troops of courage leaguing. / But a dour trend / In any friend / Is somehow less fatiguing.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Song Against Sweetness and Light," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • Ah, snug lie those that slumber / Beneath Conviction's roof. / Their floors are sturdy lumber, / Their windows, weatherproof. / But I sleep cold forever / And cold sleep all my kind, / Born nakedly to shiver / In the draft from an open mind.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • Shunning the upstart shower, / The cold and cursory scrub, / I celebrate the power / That lies within the Tub.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Ode to the Bath," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • For the hearts of nurses are solid gold, / But their heels are flat and their hands are cold, / And their voices lilt with a lilt that's falser / Than the smile of an exhibition waltzer. / Yes, nurses can cure you, nurses restore you, / But nurses are bound that they do things for you.

  • Let others, worn with living / And living's aftermath, / Take Sleep to heal the heart's distress, / Take Love to be their comfortress, / Take Song or Food or Fancy Dress, / But I shall take a Bath.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Ode to the Bath," A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • poem title, A Pocketful of Wry ()
  • Mere wealth, I am above it, / It is the reputation wide, / The playwright's pomp, the poet's pride / That eagerly I covet.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Ballad of Anthologies," Stones From a Glass House ()
  • Oh, shun, lad, the life of an author. / It's nothing but worry and waste. / Avoid that utensil, / The laboring pencil, / And pick up the scissors and paste.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Ballad of Anthologies," Stones From a Glass House ()
  • ... the more I see / Of the Pekinee, / The more I am fond of people.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Monologue in a Pet Shop," Stones From a Glass House ()
  • But compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Suburbia: Of Thee I Sing," in Harper's Magazine ()
  • ... why's the resemblance, moral or mental, / Of children to people so coincidental? / ... / So who can say — this is just between us — / That children and we are a common genus ...

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "About Children," A Short Walk From the Station ()
  • We might as well give up the fiction / That we can argue any view. / For what in me is pure Conviction / Is simple Prejudice in you.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Note to My Neighbor," A Short Walk From the Station ()
  • Those wearing Tolerance for a label / Call other views intolerable.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "In Praise of Diversity," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • This is the gist of what I know: / Give advice and buy a foe.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Garland of Precepts," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Time is the thief you cannot banish.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Ballade of Lost Objects," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Of the small gifts of heaven, / It seems to me a more than equal share / At birth was given / To girls with curly hair.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Meditations During a Permanent Wave," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • What things are sure this side of paradise: / Death, taxes, and the counsel of the bore. / Though we outwit the tithe, make death our friend, / Bores we have with us even to the end.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Sonnet From Assisi," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Sticks and stones are hard on bones. / Aimed with angry art, / Words can sting like anything. / But silence breaks the heart.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Choice of Weapons," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Rain is my lover, my apple strudel. / It haunts my heels like a pedigreed poodle. / Beyond the seas or across the nation, / It follows me faithful on every vacation.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Notes Written on a Damp Veranda," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Tomorrow will come and today will pass, / But the hearts of the young are brittle as glass.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Homework for Annabelle," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Ah! some love Paris, / And some Purdue. / But love is an archer with a low I.Q. / A bold, bad bowman, and innocent of pity. / So I'm in love with / New York City.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Kind of Love Letter to New York," The Love Letters of Phyllis McGinley ()
  • Gossip isn't scandal and it isn't malicious. It's chatter about the human race by lovers of the same. Gossip is the tool of the poet, the shoptalk of the scientist, the consolation of housewife, wit, tycoon, and intellectual. It begins in the nursery and ends when speech is past.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A New Year and No Resolutions," in Woman's Home Companion ()
  • It's hard / Keeping up with the avant-garde.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "On the Prevalence of Literary Revivals," in The New Yorker ()
  • ... the little vices bring relaxation; and a bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader. It provides that necessary roughage in the literary diet.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "New Year and No Resolutions," Merry Christmas, Happy New Year ()
  • Children from ten to twenty don't want to be understood. Their whole ambition is to feel strange and alien and misinterpreted so that they can live austerely in some stone tower of adolescence, their privacies unviolated.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "New Year and No Resolutions," Merry Christmas, Happy New Year ()
  • It is the leisured, I have noticed, who rebel the most at an interruption of routine.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Garland of Kindness," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Women, I contend, are not men's equals in anything except responsibility. We are not their inferiors, either, or even their superiors. We are quite simply different races.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Honor of Being a Woman," The Province of the Heart ()
  • If childhood is still a state, it is now chiefly a state of confusion.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Babes in Arms," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Sin has always been an ugly word, but it has been made so in a new sense over the last half-century. It has been made not only ugly but passé. People are no longer sinful, they are only immature or underprivileged or frightened or, more particularly, sick.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "In Defense of Sin," The Province of the Heart ()
  • The human animal needs a freedom seldom mentioned, freedom from intrusion. He needs a little privacy quite as much as he wants understanding or vitamins or exercise or praise.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "A Lost Privilege," The Province of the Heart ()
  • There are books that one needs maturity to enjoy just as there are books an adult can come on too late to savor.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Consolations of Illiteracy," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Nothing fails like success; nothing is so defeated as yesterday's triumphant Cause.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "How to Get Along With Men," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Getting along with men isn't what's truly important. The vital knowledge is how to get along with one man.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "How to Get Along With Men," The Province of the Heart ()
  • In a successful marriage, there is no such thing as one's way. There is only the way of both, only the bumpy, dusty, difficult, but always mutual path.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "How to Get Along With Men," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Happiness puts on as many shapes as discontent, and there is nothing odder than the satisfactions of one's neighbor.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Pipeline and Sinker," The Province of the Heart ()
  • Gardening has compensations out of all proportion to its goals. It is creation in the pure sense.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Against Gardens," The Province of the Heart ()
  • ... the trouble with gardening ... is that it does not remain an avocation. It becomes an obsession.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Against Gardens," The Province of the Heart ()
  • The successful truck gardener can never go out to dinner in the summer or spend a week end away, because his conscience tells him he has to be at home eating up his corn or packaging his beans for the freezer.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Against Gardens," The Province of the Heart ()
  • ... because I happen to be a parent of almost fiercely maternal nature, I praise casualness. It seems to me the rarest of virtues. It is useful enough when children are small. It is important to the point of necessity when they are adolescents.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • in McCall's ()
  • I'm a middle-bracket person with a middle-bracket spouse / And we live together gaily in a middle-bracket house. / We've a fair-to-middlin' family; we take the middle view; / So we're manna sent from heaven to internal revenue.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Chosen Peoples," Times Three ()
  • So open was his mind, so wide / To welcome winds from every side / That public weather took dominion, / Sweeping him bare of all opinion.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Epitaphs for Three Prominent Persons," Times Three ()
  • ... I am he / Who champions total liberty — / Intolerance being, ma'am, a state / No tolerant man can tolerate.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Angry Man," Times Three ()
  • ... each drew his sword / On the side of the Lord.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "How to Start a War," Times Three ()
  • A mother's hardest to forgive. / Life is the fruit she longs to hand you, / Ripe on a plate. And while you live, / Relentlessly she understands you.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Adversary," Times Three ()
  • Scratch any father, you find / Someone chock-full of qualms and romantic terrors, / Believing change is a threat ...

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Girl's-Eye View of Relatives," Times Three ()
  • Sisters are always drying their hair, / Locked into rooms, alone.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Girl's-Eye View of Relatives," Times Three ()
  • Aunts are discreet, a little shy / By instinct. They forbear to pry ...

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Girl's-Eye View of Relatives," Times Three ()
  • Ladies with curly hair / Have time to spare.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Bonus," Times Three ()
  • Borrow my umbrellas, my clothes, my money, and I will likely not think of them again. But borrow my books and I will be on your track like a bloodhound until they are returned.

  • Children are forced to live very rapidly in order to live at all. They are given only a few years in which to learn hundreds of thousands of things about life and the planet and themselves.

  • The ability to forget a sorrow is childhood's most enchanting feature.

  • There is satisfaction in seeing one's household prosper; in being both bountiful and provident.

  • ... suffering is as necessary to entertaining as vermouth is to a Martini — a small but vital ingredient.

  • Meanness inherits a set of silverware and keeps it in the bank. Economy uses it only on important occasions, for fear of loss. Thrift sets the table with it every night for pure pleasure, but counts the butter spreaders before they are put away.

  • Cocktail parties ... are usually not parties at all but mass ceremonials designed to clear up at one great stroke a wealth of obligations ...

  • Indeed, since poetry is at base a word game and therefore capable of being examined by a horde of wordlovers, it is perhaps the most overscrutinized of accomplishments. Even the people who ought to understand it best — the poets — are not altogether to be trusted. Poets practice an irrational art. Theirs is an attempt to express the inexpressible (maybe as good a definition of poetry as any other) and they often bring it off. ... Trying to explain their procedures after the event they invent. They attribute conscious artifice to what was essentially a creative experience, a kind of drunkenness. I suppose I am alluding to that intangible which amateurs call Inspiration. There is such a thing as inspiration (lower case) but it is no miracle. It is the reward handed to a writer for hard work and good conduct. ... At the triumphant moment this gift may seem like magic but actually it is the result of effort, practice, and the slight temperature a sulky brain is apt to run when it is pushed beyond its usual exertions.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "The Light Side of the Moon," in The American Scholar ()
  • For the wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Running to Paradise," Saint-Watching ()
  • One applauds the industry of professional philanthropy. But it has its dangers. After a while the private heart begins to harden. We fling letters into the wastebasket, are abrupt to telephoned solicitations. Charity withers in the incessant gale.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Aspects of Sanctity," Saint-Watching ()
  • History must always be taken with a grain of salt. It is, after all, not a science but an art ...

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Aspects of Sanctity," Saint-Watching ()
  • Behind every myth lies a truth; beyond every legend is reality, as radiant (sometimes as chilling) as the story itself.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Saints by Nationality," Saint-Watching ()
  • Seventy is wormwood / Seventy is gall / But it's better to be seventy / Than not alive at all.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • in Newsweek ()
  • Not reading poetry amounts to a national pastime here.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • in The New York Times Biographical Service, vol. 9 ()
  • We never sit down to our pottage, / We never go calm to our rest, / But lo! at the door of our cottage, / The knock of the Guest.

    • Phyllis McGinley
  • Wherever conversation's flowing, / Why must I feel it falls on me / To keep things going?

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Reflections at Dawn," Times Three ()
  • When blithe to argument I come, / Though armed with facts, and merry, / May Providence protect me from / The fool as adversary, / Whose mind to him a kingdom is / Where reason lacks dominion, / Who calls conviction prejudice / And prejudice opinion.

    • Phyllis McGinley,
    • "Moody Reflections," A Short Walk From the Station ()

Phyllis McGinley, Canadian-born U.S. poet, essayist, children's writer

(1905 - 1978)

Full name: Phyllis Louise McGinley.