Purple Cow

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The original "Purple Cow," from 1895

"Purple Cow" is a short nonsense poem by Gelett Burgess which was initially published in the first issue of his magazine The Lark in May 1895 and became his most widely known work.[1]

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.[2]

The poem became famous, eventually becoming "[t]he most quoted poem in twentieth-century America, after "The Night Before Christmas".[3] In addition to being widely anthologized,[1] it was often transmitted orally without credit to Burgess.[4]

The May 1895 issue of The Lark in which Burgess's "Purple Cow" first appeared

A few years after writing the poem, Burgess wrote another short poem in response titled "Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue" which appeared in the final issue of The Lark, in April 1897:[5]

Ah, 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![6]

Publicist Jim Moran appeared at Burgess' home with a cow he had painted purple.[7]

Other parodies have been written by writers including O Henry.[7]

It was originally published under the title "The Purple Cow's projected feast/Reflections on a Mythic Beast/Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least"[4] Burgess accompanied the first publication of the poem with his illustration, a cow jumping over an art deco fence heading towards a naked human, with both the cow and the human filled in black.[4] A poster version of his illustration is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[8]

Purple Cow is also the name of the ice cream shop found inside many Meijer stores. Founder Fred Meijer would commonly hand out cards for free ice cream at any Meijer Purple Cow to customers or as ice breakers and has reportedly given such cards to Jimmy Carter, Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.[9]

Marketer Seth Godin has used the phrase "Purple Cow" for the concept of marketing a product as "intrinsically different".[10] The phrase has also been used for the marketing concept of choosing a name which "makes your audience stop in their tracks and wonder why the title was chosen".[11]


  1. ^ a b Richards, Rand (2002). Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past. Heritage House Publishers. pp. 357–. ISBN 9781879367036. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Purple Cow". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Silvey, Anita (1995). Children's Books and Their Creators. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 103–. ISBN 9780395653807. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Gray, Janet (2004-04-01). Race and Time: American Women's Poetics from Antislavery to Racial Modernity. University of Iowa Press. pp. 42–. ISBN 9781587294808. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Montanarelli, Lisa; Harrison, Ann (2005). Strange But True San Francisco: Tales of the City by the Bay. Globe Pequot. pp. 165–. ISBN 9780762736812. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "Gutenberg etext". Infomotions.com. 2006-05-28. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  7. ^ a b Gardner, Martin (2012-06-19). Best Remembered Poems. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 10–. ISBN 9780486116402. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  8. ^ American Art Posters of the 1890s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Including the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1987. pp. 113–. ISBN 9780810918696. 
  9. ^ "Excerpts from Fred Meijer Stor". Mlive.com. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  10. ^ Kuchner, Marc J. (2011-11-15). Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times. Island Press. pp. 81–. ISBN 9781610911733. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Rogers, Scott (2014-04-11). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. Wiley. pp. 56–. ISBN 9781118877210. Retrieved 8 June 2014.