Parties: A Hymn of Hate

I hate Parties;
They bring out the worst in me.


There is the Novelty Affair,
Given by the woman
Who is awfully clever at that sort of thing.
Everybody must come in fancy dress;
They are always eleven Old-Fashioned Girls,
And fourteen Hawaiian gentlemen
Wearing the native costume
Of last season’s tennis clothes, with a wreath around the neck.

The hostess introduces a series of clean, home games:
Each participant is given a fair chance
To guess the number of seeds in a cucumber,
Or thread a needle against time,
Or see how many names of wild flowers he knows.
Ice cream in trick formations, And punch like Volstead used to make
Buoy up the players after the mental strain.
You have to tell the hostess that it’s a riot,
And she says she’ll just die if you don’t come to her next party—
If only a guarantee went with that!

Then there is the Bridge Festival.
The winner is awarded an arts-and-crafts hearth-brush,
And all the rest get garlands of hothouse raspberries.
You cut for partners
And draw the man who wrote the game.
He won’t let bygones be bygones;
After each hand
He starts getting personal about your motives in leading clubs,
And one word frequently leads to another.

At the next table
You have one of those partners
Who says it is nothing but a game, after all.
He trumps your ace
And tries to laugh it off.
And yet they shoot men like Elwell.

There is the Day in the Country;
It seems more like a week.
All the contestants are wedged into automobiles,
And you are allotted the space between two ladies
Who close in on you.
The party gets a nice early start,
Because everybody wants to make a long day of it—
They get their wish.
Everyone contributes a basket of lunch;
Each person has it all figured out
That no one else will think of bringing hard-boiled eggs.

There is intensive picking of dogwood,
And no one is quite sure what poison ivy is like;
They find out the next day.
Things start off with a rush.
Everybody joins in the old songs,
And points out cloud effects,
And puts in a good word for the colour of the grass.

But after the first fifty miles,
Nature doesn’t go over so big,
And singing belongs to the lost arts.
There is a slight spurt on the homestretch,
And everyone exclaims over how beautiful the lights of the city look—
I’ll say they do.

And there is the informal little Dinner Party;
The lowest form of taking nourishment.
The man on your left draws diagrams with a fork,
Illustrating the way he is going to have a new sun-parlour built on;
And the one on your right
Explains how soon business conditions will better, and why.

When the more material part of the evening is over,
You have your choice of listening to the Harry Lauder records,
Or having the hostess hem you in
And show you the snapshots of the baby they took last summer.

Just before you break away,
You mutter something to the host and hostess
About sometime soon you must have them over—
Over your dead body.

I hate Parties;
They bring out the worst in me.

Footnotes

  1. In this context, the noun “spurt” refers to a brief, unsustained effort, or a sudden outbreak of activity or exertion. The speaker uses this word to show that the car ride back to the city is mundane and quiet except for this moment in which all passengers utter the same observation. This “spurt” adds to the speaker’s overall boredom with the trip.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The speaker is imagining each of the participants becoming infected with poison ivy as a result of their adventures in the park. This seems like a part of the speaker’s imagination, or hopes, since this section of the poem continues to focus on the events of the party. This fantasy reflects the speaker’s disdain for the people she is surrounded by and dark inner thoughts about them.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Poison ivy is a North American flowering plant found in many outdoor hiking, camping, and picnicking areas. Contact with the leaves of this plant is widely known to cause allergic reactions on the skin, manifesting in irritation, itching, and painful rashes. The partakers of this picnic seem to have never experienced poison ivy rashes and are probably speculating about its effects as they pick dogwood.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Notice the sarcasm with which the speaker expresses disgust over the other participant’s lack of imagination. She mocks everyone who “has it all figured out” and suggests that the majority of the people at the party have brought hard-boiled eggs. This kind of sarcastic, mocking tone suggests that the speaker not only considers the party boring, but also views the people at the party as extremely dull and foolish.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The verb “to allot” means “to designate” or “to appoint.” Notice that the speaker seems to view all of the activities as heavily regulated: even the space she sits in the car on the way to the event must be assigned to her, it cannot be random.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. After the speaker’s annoyance with the partner who took the game too seriously, the reader might expect her to appreciate the partner who does not take the game seriously and seems to not know what he is doing. However, with this biting comment, the speaker mocks her partner’s attempt to laugh off his poor playing because people get shot over this game. This comment also remarks on the ridiculous nature of this fact: something a man can laugh at led to another man’s death.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Joseph Bowne Elwell was a famous American bridge player who invented the Auction Bridge version of the game. In 1920, Elwell was the subject of a famous, unsolved murder case. He was shot in the head inside his locked house and the bullet was laid neatly on the table beside his body. The murder spawned multiple detective novels and speculation about how the murder was committed and why. Elwell’s prominence in card-playing circles led many to believe that anger or debt over the game led to his murder.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. In a game of cards, a “trump card” is the highest card played that will win a trick. In the game of Bridge, the ace of any suit is the highest card and generally means that the player of the ace will win the round. However, the suit of spades is the trump suit, meaning it can be played on any suit and any number and win the trick. Thus, any spade that is played automatically beats all of the high cards of the other suits, including the ace. By “trumps your ace” the speaker means that her partner plays a spade and wins the hand even though she played an ace. Since they are on the same team and bet how many hands they would win, this would be seen as poor strategy, even gross incompetence, as the ace would factor into their bet and the pair would likely come up short of their number.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This line means that the speaker and her partner get into an argument. Notice that the speaker’s tone in this line is dismissive. The adverb “frequently” and the mundane progression of events portrayed in the line suggests that the speaker is just as bored by this fight as she is by the entire card game event.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The phrase “getting personal” is an example of the 1920s’ dialect that reflects the time period in which this poem was written. The phrase means to become personally offended, which is very similar to the modern idiom “to take it personally.” With this phrase, the speaker suggests that her partner is taking their loss in this card game as a personal offense.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The noun phrase “Leading clubs” refers to the progression of the bridge game. The first person to place their card in bridge “leads” the round. The other players must place cards of the same suit that the “lead” plays. If the other players do not have this suit or a trump card they must “burn” a card—place a card of a different suit that has no effect on who will win the hand. The speaker’s partner is angry with her because she leads with clubs, a card suit that features black three-leaf clovers, a suit he presumably did not have.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The English idiom “Let bygones be bygones” means to forget about the unpleasant things that have happened in the past. It is similar to the expression “let it go” or “what’s done is done.” Since this idiom is generally used to refer to serious offenses or troublesome events, the speaker uses this it to show both the character of her bridge partner and her exasperation with him. This ridiculous partner has elevated a lost hand in a cardgame to the level of a serious event.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The speaker draws a card and is randomly assigned this partner: “the man who wrote the game.” This is a hyperbolic statement. She is not literally playing cards with the man who invented bridge, her partner is a stickler for the rules and seems to take everything about the game personally, as if he invented the game himself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. To “cut for partners” is a method for picking partners in bridge tournaments. One “cuts” the deck of cards in half and then draws a card. The card you draw matches you with a partner who you then play the card game with.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. The phrase “hem you in” is a clever example of both metaphor and metonymy. Metaphorically, to be hemmed in is to be trapped. Literally, a hem is a sewn-on border on a garment. One can thus imagine the hostess’s hemmed dress or shirt as she moves in on the speaker.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Bridge is a complicated card game with a cult following of players. There are more books written about bridge strategy than any other game, except chess. The basic setup of the game has four players in teams of two. Each team receives 13 cards and bets on how many points they will win before the round begins. Each player places a card face-up in the center of the table in the same suit of the initial card played. Cards are ranked aces-high; spades are the dominant suit. Once the four cards are placed, the highest trump card takes the “trick,” or group of cards played. Each trick represents one point. The goal of each partnership is to win as many tricks as they bet they would before the round began, no more and no less.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. The speaker’s use of “material” is a clever double entendre. The word refers to things of physical substance: in this case, the food. The word also refers all things low-minded, unintellectual, non-spiritual. The irony is that the speaker expects a more meaningful phase of the evening, only to confront Harry Lauder records and baby pictures.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. The image of the man diagramming his new sun-parlour with a fork is both funny and well-observed. This is the type of detail which draws the reader into the world of the poem, weaving together action, character, imagery and setting in just a few words.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Parker creates a pair of subtly differentiated voices in the poem. In the non-italicized voice, the speaker reflects on her experiences at various parties. The voice is second-person, but only in a rhetorical sense, for the sake of telling the stories in a broadly applicable way. This second-person voice is subtle in its ironic humor. The italicized voice is in first-person. It is the speaker’s true voice, surfacing during occasional asides. This voice’s humor is darker and more direct. There is a sense, too, that the italicized voice represents the thoughts the speaker wishes to express in the midst of all the banal party proceedings.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. Parker employs a loose, unmetered free-verse style with a conversational tone. The line lengths are determined by the phrases and sentences, so there is a lot of line variation and no enjambment. Parker uses differences in line length for tonal effect. For example, this line about the “light of the city” is, at 19 syllables, the longest of the poem. The very next line, the 4-syllable “I’ll say they do,” is the shortest. The long, flowing nature of the first line captures the rapture of the other party-goers. The terse “I’ll say they do” conveys the contrasting impatience of the speaker.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. A “lost art” is an art or trade whose techniques have been lost due to historical and cultural changes. The irony here is that singing is not a lost art. The speaker says it is so because, in the company of the talentless fellow partygoers, it seems that no one knows how to sing anymore.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. In this section, the speaker makes fun of the romantic perspective of the other party-goers. The speaker mixes low, colloquial language—“puts in a good word”—with the natural imagery that seems to be enrapturing the others. This technique comes up again in the line “Nature doesn’t go over so big.” Just imagine what a nature-loving Romantic-era poet like Wordsworth would say!

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. Dogwood is a shrub known for its white flowers, red stems, and purple berries. It is often harvested for decorative use, to make wreaths or bouquets. Parker’s speaker is less than thrilled to be picking it.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. The “arts-and-crafts hearth-brush” refers to a fireplace brush designed in the style of the arts and crafts movement. This style—used in architecture, textiles, graphics and book-printing—was popularized in England at the turn of the 20th century and was in fashion in Parker’s time.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. The poem begins and ends with the same two lines. All poems belonging to Parker’s “The Hates” utilize the same structure, which serves to clearly delineate the beginning and conclusion of the poem. While this poem is double-voiced, this structure demonstrates that the “true” voice is this one of contempt. In light of this, the reader is encouraged to read the entirety of the poem in a sarcastic, contemptuous tone and to return to this voice at its conclusion.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. Parker’s humor ranges from dry to downright morbid, as illustrated in this line. The speaker’s comic interest in death surfaces again in the poem’s final punchline. Parker pulls humor, too, from the dishonesty of everyday speech. Taking the hostess’s dramatic pledge at its word is both funny and revealing—we see how disingenuous we often are in our phrases.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. This line is emblematic of the speaker’s dark humour apparent throughout the poem. Once again, since the phrase is italicized, this means that it is spoken aside to the reader and is a reflection of the speaker’s true thoughts. This aside serves to ironically undercut the preceding line, exposing the falsity of the sentiment “sometime soon you must have them over.” We see that the speaker extends this invitation merely to partake in the customary niceties of “polite” society. This phrase uses hyperbole to emphasize the speaker’s absolute refusal to follow through on this invitation, an idea the speaker finds so unattractive that she would have to be dead to allow it.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. The noun “riot” here is used to describe the party as wild and entertaining. Of course, the speaker is obviously lying to the hostess—the party described is quite the opposite of the lively and uncontrolled activity of a riot. This false sentiment further emphasizes the speaker’s frustration at the inauthenticity, or falseness, of such activities, which prioritize what “should” be done and what “you have to” do over what is true and honest. The personal pronoun “You” here also directly addresses the reader, implicating them in the scene and further inviting us to join the speaker in her condemnation.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  29. This line is dripping with satire. The speaker is mocking the party-goers for experiencing “mental strain” from such activities as counting cucumber seeds. Furthermore, the suggestion that a non-alcoholic fruit punch may revive them is meant to inspire deliberate eye-rolling and scorn on the part of the reader. Without explicitly stating her intentions, the poem encourages the reader to share in her mockery and contempt for the partygoers and their activities.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  30. The speaker lists three examples of party games to demonstrate the sheer boredom and tediousness of such activities. It is unlikely any reader would be thrilled at the prospect of counting seeds in a cucumber, threading a needle, or listing names of flowers. In this way, the speaker further emphasizes the unappealing nature of such parties using a sarcastic, judgmental tone.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  31. The speaker demonstrates the predictable attire of male guests to be that of Hawaiian dress. However, the speaker uses the phrase “native costume” ironically, as the following line demonstrates the guests as wearing tennis clothes and a wreath. This description is far from authentic native-Hawaiian dress; rather, it is a representation of the clothes readily available as costumes for the party guests. We may assume that the “wreath” mentioned here is supposed to reference a Hawaiian lei, a colorful floral garland typically worn around the neck. This description once more emphasizes the lack of original thought by the guests, who all wear similar costumes to every party of this nature. The identical costumes function almost as a uniform of their unoriginality, while reference to “last season” demonstrates their lack of fashion or sophistication.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. Volstead refers to Andrew John Volstead, a representative of the Republican Party from 1903–1923. His name is most commonly used in reference to the prohibition law of 1919, frequently dubbed the Volstead Act, which made it illegal to buy or consume alcohol in the United States. The use of this reference in the description of the punch suggests that this was a non-alcoholic drink. Along with the description of “clean home games,” the speaker displays an obvious distaste for this idea of “wholesome” fun.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. The noun phrase “Old-Fashioned Girls” refers to a type of fancy dress, in which women dress up in historical clothing and garments. This most likely would have been a style of Victorian dress. The adverb “always” once again emphasizes the lack of spontaneity at this type of party, where the guests always come dressed in predictable costumes.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. The modal verb “must” here emphasizes the strict rules of the themed party. The speaker sees these official rules as uniform and dull, precluding any sense of spontaneity or fun. From this line and ones to follow, we may infer that Parker prefers parties to be lively, spontaneous, and less controlled by strict conditions or rules.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. The adjective “clever” used to describe the hostess is undercut by both “awfully” and the following phrase “at that sort of thing.” This line creates a sarcastic tone and suggests that the speaker is belittling both the themed party, and the woman who is capable of hosting such an event.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  36. A “Novelty Affair” is a themed party, to which guests would often wear fancy dress and partake in themed games. Parker capitalizes the type of party here to demonstrate the official, calculated nature of such a party. Far from being spontaneous, this type of party would require stringent planning by the host. As an integral member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of early 20th-century Manhattan critics that prided themselves on wordplay and satire, Parker and her peers would have delighted in making fun of clichéd, unoriginal parties such as these.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. During her time as a writer for Vanity Fair magazine, Parker wrote a recurring series of humorous poems entitled “The Hates.” These poems were small pieces of social satire designed to poke fun at various aspects of modern society. As was typical of this series, the poem begins with an italicized phrase wherein Parker declares the subject of her hate. In this poem, Parker condemns four different types of parties, utilizing the italicized form to delineate the poem into clear sections. Beginning the poem in this way introduces a strong, scathing tone from the outset.

    — Emily, Owl Eyes Staff