Miss Otis Regrets

The Story behind the song . . . This song, a favourite of mine, was composed by Cole Porter in 1934. It tells in wistful, melancholic mood, of a lady who, distraught after her lover’s taking advantage of her, but then unceremoniously abandoning her, kills him with a single shot of her gun. She then, after a final apology, just before she is lynched by a revengeful mob, apologises with the words, “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today”

The following uncorroborated story is told of how  Cole Porter came to write “Miss Otis Regrets“

It goes that while Cole Porter was dining in a restaurant, he boasted that he could write a song on any subject. His companion then issued a challenge to write one about whatever the next thing was that they overheard being said. At this point a waiter is supposed to have approached another table and said to the diner waiting for someone to join them “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, Madam“.

I give the song’s lyrics below, followed by a link to my favourite version, sung by Brian Ferry, originally lead singer with Roxy Music, now a mainly solo artist . . .

“Miss Otis Regrets” – The Lyrics

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
She is sorry to be delayed
But last evening down on Lovers Lane she strayed, Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

When she woke up and found that her dream of love was gone, Madam
She ran to the man who had led her so far astray
And from under her velvet gown
She drew a gun and shot her lover down, Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail, Madam
They strung her upon the old willow ‘cross the way
And the moment before she died
She lifted up her lovely head and cried, Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.

Wendy Cope – ‘After the Lunch’

(No.57 of my favourite short poems)

Waterloo Bridge

After the Lunch

On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes,
the weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I’ve fallen in love.

On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think:
This is nothing. you’re high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different. And when was it wrong?

On Waterloo Bridge with the wind in my hair
I am tempted to skip. You’re a fool. I don’t care.
the head does its best but the heart is the boss-
I admit it before I am halfway across.

Wendy Cope


Wendy Cope is one of the most acclaimed living comic poets writing in English.  She was raised in Kent, England and has published several volumes of poetry including Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis and Serious Concerns.  Cope possesses a remarkable talent for parody and for using humour to address serious topics.

She has a keen eye for the everyday, mundane aspects of English life, especially the desires, frustrations, hopes, confusions and emotions in intimate relationships.  Dr Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, and a poet himself, has written that: “Wendy Cope is without doubt the wittiest of contemporary English poets, and says a lot of extremely serious things”.

Notes adapted from Wikipedia and other online sources.