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.
The poem was first published in the first issue of Burgess's magazine The Lark in May 1895 and became his most widely known work. It originally had the longer title "The Purple Cow's projected feast/Reflections on a Mythic Beast/Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least". This publication of the poem also included an illustration by Burgess featuring a cow jumping over an art nouveau fence heading towards a naked human, with both the cow and the human filled in black. A poster version of his illustration is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The poem became popular, eventually becoming what one commentator called "[t]he most quoted poem in twentieth-century America, after 'The Night Before Christmas'". In addition to being widely anthologized, it was often transmitted orally without credit to Burgess. Many years after its appearance, publicist Jim Moran appeared at Burgess' home with a cow he had painted purple.
Burgess came to resent its popularity. 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 of 1897:
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!
Afterlife of the poem
"Purple Cow" is also the name of the ice cream shop found inside Meijer stores. Founder Fred Meijer handed out cards for free ice cream at any Meijer Purple Cow ice cream shop to customers as part of a promotional campaign.[relevant? ]
Marketer Seth Godin has used the phrase "Purple Cow" for the concept of marketing a product as "intrinsically different". 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."[relevant? ]
A purple cow is the mascot of Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which was named after the college's humor magazine Purple Cow, which, in turn, was named after Burgess's poem.
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