A few years ago I picked up at a yard sale held at a local church a copy of  Archy and Mehitabel  by Don Marquis. As I wrote somewhere else at the time, the book contains the amusing letters, published in the teens and early twenties, of a cockroach named Archy who typed them by diving headfirst into the typewriter keys. (He couldn’t use the shift key, obviously, hence the lower case.) The letter “Certain maxims of Archy” contains, for example,

the servant problem
wouldn t hurt the u s a
if it could settle
its public
servant problem

if you get gloomy just
take an hour off and sit
and think how
much better this world
is than hell
of course it won t cheer
you up much if
you expect to go there

if monkey glands
did restore your youth
what would you do
with it
question mark
just what you did before
interrogation point

yes I thought so
exclamation point

procrastination is the
art of keeping
up with yesterday

every cloud
has it silver
lining but it is
sometimes a little
difficult to get it to
the mint


You will find these letters praised by critics and literary historians, and they are quite clever, and Marquis did get Archy’s voice down perfectly, but they’re not  that  good. I had never read them before, and I think part of their continued appeal is that Archy is an existentialist and a skeptic, and Maquis’ satirical targets include those beliefs secular readers like to see satirized. Take just one of the maxims:
i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
seriously debating
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization

I could be wrong about this, not knowing any more about the letters than I have picked up from reading this book, but this kind of satire does run through it.

On the other hand, Archy is a cockroach.

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