Phyllis McGinley 

(1905 - 1978)




Born on March 21, 1905, in Ontario, Oregon, Phyllis McGinley attended the University of Southern California and the University of Utah. She then taught school for several years. A writer of verses since childhood, she began submitting them to newspapers and magazines. Franklin P. Adams printed a few in his column, "The Conning Tower," in the New York Herald Tribune, and gradually McGinley's poetry began to appear also in The New Yorker and other periodicals.

After a stint as an advertising copywriter and another as poetry editor for Town and Country magazine, McGinley devoted herself to writing. Her first book of poems, On the Contrary (1934), was well received. It was followed by One More Manhattan (1937), Husbands Are Difficult (1941), Stones from Glass Houses (1946), and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (1958), among others. Although her poetry is often dismissed as light verse, it is serious as well as witty.  


Phyllis McGinley

She upheld in her poetry the values she cherished, writing with delight of the suburban landscape. She wrote in masterfully controlled conventional form, and her great technical expertise gave her work the appearance of effortlessness. In 1961 her Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades (1960) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. McGinley also wrote a number of books for children, including The Horse That Lived Upstairs (1944), All Around the Town (1948), Blunderbus (1951), The Make-Believe Twins (1953), Boys are Awful (1962), and How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas (1963). Her essays, first published in such magazines as Ladies' Home Journal and Reader's Digest are collected in Province of the Heart (1959); Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964), a popular series of autobiographical essays about being a wife in the suburbs; Wonderful Time (1966); and Saint Watching (1969). Her later collections of poems include Sugar and Spice (1960) and A Wreath of Christmas Legends (1967). McGinley died in New York City on February 22, 1978.  










Gossip isn't scandal and it's not merely malicious. It's chatter about the human race by lovers of the same. Gossip is the tool of the poet, the shop-talk of the scientist, and the consolation of the housewife, wit, tycoon and intellectual. It begins in the nursery and ends when speech is past.


A lady is smarter than a gentleman, maybe, She can sew a fine seam, she can have a baby, She can use her intuition instead of her brain, But she can't fold a paper in a crowded train.


The knowingness of little girls / Is hidden underneath their curls.


Nothing fails like success; nothing is so defeated as yesterday's triumphant Cause.


The trouble with gardening is that it does not remain an avocation. It becomes an obsession.


Praise is warming and desirable. But it is an earned thing. It has to be deserved, like a hug from a child.


Our bodies are shaped to bear children, and our lives are a working out of the processes of creation. All our ambitions and intelligence are beside that great elemental point..


Of course we women gossip on occasion. But our appetite for it is not as avid as a mans.  It is in the boys gyms, the college fraternity houses, the club locker rooms, the paneled offices of business that gossip reaches its luxuriant flower.


I do not know who first invented the myth of sexual equality. But it is a myth willfully fostered and nourished by certain semi-scientists and other fiction writers. And it has done more, I suspect, to unsettle marital happiness than any other false doctrine of this myth-ridden age.


Who could deny that privacy is a jewel? It has always been the mark of privilege, the distinguishing feature of a truly urbane culture. Out of the cave, the tribal teepee, the pueblo, the community fortress, man emerged to build himself a house of his own with a shelter in it for himself and his diversions. Every age has seen it so. The poor might have to huddle together in cities for need's sake, and the frontiersman cling to his neighbors for the sake of protection. But in each civilization, as it advanced, those who could afford it chose the luxury of a withdrawing-place.


Sticks and stones are hard on bones aimed with angry art. Words can sting like anything but silence breaks the heart.


Sin has always been an ugly word, but it has been made so in a new sense over the last half-century. It has been made not only ugly but passé. People are no longer sinful, they are only immature or underprivileged or frightened or, more particularly, sick.







Ballad of Lost Objects



Where are the ribbons I tie my hair with?

Where is my lipstick? Where are my hose -

The sheer ones hoarded these weeks to wear with

Frocks the closets do not disclose?

Perfumes, petticoats, sports chapeaux,

The blouse Parisian, the earrings Spanish -

Everything suddenly up and goes.

And where in the world did the children vanish?

This is the house I used to share with

Girls in pinafores, shier than does.

I can recall how they climbed my stairs with

Gales of giggles on their tiptoes.

Last seen wearing both braids and bows

(And looking rather Raggedy-Annish),

When they departed nobody knows -

Where in the world did the children vanish?

Two tall strangers, now I must bear with,

Decked in my personal furbelows,

Raiding the larder, rending the air with

Gossip and terrible radios.

Neither my friends nor quite my foes,

Alien, beautiful, stern and clannish,

Here they dwell, while the wonder grows:

Where in the world did the children vanish?

Prince, I warn you, under the rose,

Time is the thief you cannot banish.

These are my daughters, I suppose.

But where in the world did the children vanish?






First Lesson



The first thing to remember about fathers is, they're men.

A girl has to keep it in mind.

They are dragon-seekers, bent on impossible rescues.

Scratch any father, you find

Someone chock-full of qualms and romantic terrors,

Believing change is a threat -

Like your first shoes with heel on, like your first bicycle

It took months to get.

Walk in strange woods, they warn you about the snakes there.

Climb and they fear you'll fall.

Books, angular looks, swimming in deep water -

Fathers mistrust them all.

Men are the worriers. It is difficult for them

To learn what they must learn:

How you have a journey to take and very likely,

For a while, will not return.







Ode to the end of Summer




Summer, adieu

          Adieu gregarious season.

Goodbye, 'revoir, farewell.

Now day comes late; now chillier blows the breeze on

Forsaken beach and boarded-up hotel.

Now wild geese fly together in thin lines

And Tourist Homes take down their lettered signs.


It fades--this green this lavish interval

This time of flowers and fruits,

Of melon ripe along the orchard wall,

Of sun and sails and wrinkled linen suits;

Time when the world seems rather plus than minus

And pollen tickles the allergic sinus.


Now fugitives to farm and shore and highland

Cancel their brief escape.

The Ferris wheel is quiet at Coney Island

And quaintness trades no longer on the Cape;

While meek-eyed parents hasten down the ramps

To greet their offspring, terrible from camps.


Turn up the steam. The year is growing older.

The maple boughs are red.

Summer, farewell. Farewell the sunburnt shoulder

Farewell the peasant kerchief on the head.

Farewell the thunderstorm, complete with lightning,

And the white shoe that ever needeth whitening.


Farewell, vacation friendships, sweet but tenuous

Ditto to slacks and shorts,

Farewell, O strange compulsion to be strenuous

Which sends us forth to death on tennis courts.

Farewel, Mosquito, horror of our nights;

Clambakes, iced tea, and transatlantic flights.


The zinnia withers, mortal as the tulip.

Now from the dripping glass

I'll sip no more the amateur mint julep

Nor dine al fresco on the alien grass;

Nor scale the height nor breast the truculent billow

Nor lay my head on any weekend pillow.


Unstintingly I yield myself to Autumn

And Equinoctial sloth.

I hide my swim suit in the bureau's bottom

Nor fear the fury of the after-moth

Forswearing porch and pool and beetled garden,

My heart shall rest, my arteries shall harden.


Welcome, kind Fall, and every month with "r" in

Whereto my mind is bent.

Come, sedentary season that I star in,

O fire-lit Winter of my deep content!

Amid the snow, the sleet, the blizzard's raw gust

I shall be cozier than I was in August.


Safe from the picnic sleeps the unlittered dell.

The last Good Humor sounds its final bell

And all is silence.

                     Summer, farewell, farewell.







Reflections at Dawn




I wish I owned a Dior dress

Made to my order out of satin.

I wish I weighed a little less

And could read Latin.

Had perfect pitch or matching pearls,

A better head for street directions,

And seven daughters, all with curls

And fair complexions.

I wish I'd tan instead of burn.

But most, on all the stars that glisten,

I wish at parties I could learn

to sit and listen.


I wish I didn't talk so much at parties.

It isn't that I want to hear

My voice assaulting every ear,

Uprising loud and firm and clear

Above the cocktail clatter.

It's simply, once a doorbells' rung,

(I've been like this since I was young)

Some madness overtake my tongue

And I begin to chatter.


Buffet, ball, banquet, quilting bee,

Wherever conversation's flowing,

Why must I feel it falls on me

To keep things going?

Though ladies cleverer than I

Can loll in silence, soft and idle,

Whatever topic gallops by,

I seize its bridle,

Hold forth on art, dissect the stage,

Or babble like a kindergart'ner

Of politics till I enrage

My dinner partner.


I wish I did'nt talk so much at parties.

When hotly boil the arguments,

Ah? would I had the common sense

To sit demurely on a fence

And let who will be vocal,

Instead of plunging in the fray

With my opinions on display

Till all the gentlemen edge away

To catch an early local


Oh! there is many a likely boon

That fate might flip me from her griddle.

I wish that I could sleep till noon

And play the fiddle,

Or dance a tour jete' so light

It would not shake a single straw down.

But when I ponder how last night

I laid the law down.

More than to have the Midas touch

Or critics' praise, however hearty,

I wish I didn't talk so much,

I wish I didn't talk so much,

I wish I didn't talk so much,

When I am at a party.