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Phyllis McGinley

"A Ballad of Anthologists"
(The Saturday Evening Post
December 20, 1941)

An urchin at his father's knee
     Sat scribbling on his slate,
And "Dearest father," quavered he,
"When I grow up I long to be
     A writer, rich and great."
That parent gently laid his hand
     Upon the curly head,
And in a voice of deep command
     He sorrowfully said:

"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.
For authors wear hand-me-down suits, lad;

     "Their cuffs, they are frayed at the wrist.
But castles and riches
And custom-made britches
     Belong to the anthologist,
My boy,
     Await on the anthologist."

"Now, father dear," the youth replied,
     "Mere wealth, I am above it.
It is the reputation wide,
The playwright's pomp, the poet's pride,
     That eagerly I covet."
Then wrath lit up his elder's face,
     And in an accent burning
He shouted, "From your mind erase
     Such vain creative yearning!

"You'd better compile a collection
     Of words that another has wrote.
It's the shears and the glue
Which will compensate you
     And fashion a person of note.
For poets have common companions.
     Their fame is a wraith in the mist.
But the critics all quarrel
To garland with laurel
     The brow of the anthologist,
My son,
     The brow of the anthologist."

Years pased. To heed, that urchin failed,
     What his papa had hinted.
Not thinking what the act entailed,
To magazines his lines he mailed
     And often got them printed.
But when reviewers passed him by
     For books he'd helped adorn,
"I wish I'd listened," he would sigh,
     "When father used to warn:

"'Oh, shun, lad, the life of an author.
     It's a road unrewarding and vile.
For the miracle's wrought
With a mucilage pot
     And a feasible reference file.
Forever that Ode on the Urn, sir,
     Has headed the publishers' list.
But the name isn't Keats
On the royalty sheets
     That go out to the anthologist,
My lad,
     The sedulous anthologist.'"

© Phyllis McGinley
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