Monday 28 June 2010


After several blog posts about multi-coloured elephants, I give you by way of a change --- a purple cow walking through a plate-glass window to advertise the amusements and entertainments on offer at London's South Bank 'fringe' event, Udderbelly...

Purple Cow on South Bank

It was, as you can see, a shattering experience even to someone familiar with the various alarms and diversions commonly met with on South Bank.

Naturally - or, perhaps, unnaturally - this biliously-hued bovine brought to mind the famous verse written by American poet, artist and critic (right) Gelett Burgess.

Published on 1 May, 1895, in the first issue of the monthly magazine, The Lark...

The Lark, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1 May, 1895) was entitled 'The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least.'

Gelette Burgess - Purple Cow
The poem almost immediately passed into public consciousness, so that, two years later, in the April 1897 edition of The Lark, Burgess published 'Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue':

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!

Since impersonation is - or so they say - the sincerest form of flattery, it is a testament to the popularity of Burgess's short, but witty, ditty that it has been so frequently parodied.

Of the many purple cow pastiches, these are a couple of my favourites:

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.

I've never seen a purple cow.
I never hope to see one.
But from the milk we're getting now,
There certainly must be one!

Even Ogden Nash, the twentieth century's greatest writer of light verse (a sweeping statement there, based on personal prejudice!) paid tribute to Gelett Burgess and his purple cow with this little ode:

I've never seen an abominable snowman,
I'm hoping not to see one,

I'm also hoping, if I do,

That it will be a wee one.

While another well-known versifier, Carolyn Wells, parodied the Purple Cow in the style of Milton, Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Keats and others.

The Purple Cow has also inspired a drink (vodka and grape juice), an ice-cream (raspberry with chocolate and white chocolate chips), a grape-flavoured taffy lollipop and a chain of burger restaurants in the Southern USA. What's more, a purple cow (named, incidentally, Ephelia) happens to be the mascot of Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.


Rob Cox said...

The 'Udderbelly' is, of course, a tribute to the the venue of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe called 'The Underbelly'. This venue has three or four spaces within which performances can be mounted. Mandy and I have seen a few of these and they tend to be pretty outrageous and innovative! I'm not sure if the same is true of the 'Udderbelly'!!!

Suzanne said...

A purple cow also used to be the emblem of a well-known Belgian chocolate bar: Suchard's Milka. Although of course "Belgian" Côte d'Or chocolate has now been taken over by the Swiss who in turn were taken over by Kraft. What is the world coming to?

Brian Sibley said...

Rob Cox - I didn't know that, Rob, and (having been to the festival a number of times) probably ought to have done!

The website, on checking is 'Underbelly' and so, at first, I thought that my dyslexia had (as it not infrequently does) got the better of me. But the South Bank event is, definitely, called 'Udderbelly', so I can't explain - other than the fact that the venue is a huge inflatable, upside-down cow!

Suzanne - I didn't know that, either! Checking on Google, I found a whole herd of purple Milka cows!

Also discovered that there are Purple Cow companies selling jewellery, paper cutters, craft and graphic art supplies. What's more, here's a book by Seth Godin entitled Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable Here's the blurb:

"You're either a Purple Cow or you're not. You're either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice. What do Apple, Starbucks, Dyson and Pret a Manger have in common? How do they achieve spectacular growth, leaving behind former tried-and-true brands to gasp their last?

"The old checklist of P's used by marketers - Pricing, Promotion, Publicity - aren't working anymore. The golden age of advertising is over. It's time to add a new P - the Purple Cow. Purple Cow describes something phenomenal, something counterintuitive and exciting and flat-out unbelievable.

"In his new bestseller, Seth Godin urges you to put a Purple Cow into everything you build, and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable. It's a manifesto for anyone who wants to help create products and services that are worth marketing in the first place."

Goodness! What Gelett Burgess started back in 1895!

Roger O B... said...

We saw the Udderbelly upside down cow stage on the way to Lambeth palace last week, Brian, but neither of us had remembered to carry a camera!
NORTMEN: Dem guys in Vikin' Ships

Brian Sibley said...

I wondered why your career as a member of the paparazzi had been so brief! :)

Bill Field said...

The late great comedian, George Carlin's daughter, Kelly, is helping my friend Rory get in tough with his inner-muse, she's made it her vocation. I think that is really terrific, if one truly has a gift for it!