Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971) was a famous American poet well known for his light verse of which he wrote over 500 pieces. He was born in Rye, New York, the son of Mattie and Edmund Strudwick Nash. His was a distinguished family; the city of Nashville, Tennessee, was named in honor of one of his forbearers. He attended Harvard College, but dropped out after only one year and then worked as a school teacher in Newport, Rhode Island. He moved to New York where he began selling bonds, unsuccessfully; as he put it, “Came to New York to make my fortune as a bond salesman and in two years sold one bond—to my godmother. However, I saw lots of good movies.” He worked as a copywriter for a company that had previously employed F. Scott Fitzgerald; he worked in the marketing department with the publishing house Doubleday; he worked, for three months in 1931, on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. That same year he married Frances Leonard and published his first collection of poems, Hard Lines (Simon & Schuster, 1931). The book was a tremendous success; it went into seven printings in its first year alone and earned him national recognition.
In 1934, Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he remained until his death in 1971. Nash thought of Baltimore as home. Comparing it to New York he wrote, “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.” He devoted himself full-time to his verse. He appeared regularly on radio and on television, and he drew huge audiences for his readings and lectures. He was also the author of three screenplays for MGM, and along with S. J. Perelmen and Kurt Weil, he wrote the 1943 Broadway hit One Touch of Venus. He also wrote the lyrics for the 1952 revue Two’s Company. In the 1950s, Nash focused on writing poems for children, including his collection Girls Are Silly (Franklin Watts, 1962). The best of his work was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and 1972. He died on May 19, 1971, prompting The New York Times to say that his “droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry.”
SQUABS – THE POETIC STYLE OF OGDEN NASH
In culinary terminology, according to Wikipedia, the squab is a young domestic pigeon, typically under four weeks old, or its meat. The meat is widely described as tasting like dark chicken. It is also the title of one of Ogden Nash’s brief, witty and delightful poems. His couplet begins Toward a better world I contribute my modest smidgin… If I call the poems I have chosen below Squabs, it is not to minimise their effectiveness or to diminish their resonance. It is, instead, to acknowledge how tasty the modest smidgin may be. Introducing a selection of the poetry, Anthony Burgess tried to write in the same vein and confessed his limitations: I am trying to imitate him here, but he is probably quite inimitable./My own talent for this sort of thing being limited and his virtually illimitable.
While he may be inimitable and illimitable, it is possible to reflect on the merits of his success. Much has to do with his mastery of rhyme. “I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old.” His rhymes are, to say the least, unconventional and often absurd. He had a fondness for crafting his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist and a knack for surprising, pun-like rhymes, sometimes with words deliberately misspelled for comic effect. In fact, his persistent sabotage of conventional spelling was to became his signature trademark. He had his own word for this technique – he called himself a “worsifier.” He often wrote in an exaggerated verse form with pairs of lines that rhyme, but are of dissimilar length and irregular meter. His poems also had an intensely anti-establishment quality that resounded with many Americans, particularly during the Depression. He was a keen observer of American social life, and frequently mocked religious moralizing and conservative politicians. As his career as America’s best practitioner of light verse blossomed he began to refine his focus upon what he called “my field—the minor idiocies of humanity.” This led to a whimsical buffoonery or, as he put it once, “In chaos sublunary / What remains constant but buffoonery?” As one of his biographers, on the Poetry Foundation site, noted, Nash always saw his role as that of cheerful light entertainer, and maintained it to the last in his writing. Decades after his death, he continues to attract new readers and continues to be a popular, if not the most popular, American humorous poet.
Brief Poems by Ogden Nash
A Caution to Everybody
Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.
A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
A girl whose cheeks are covered with paint
Has an advantage with me over one whose ain’t.
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed.
Why did the lord give us agility
If not to evade responsibility?
Crossing the Border
And middle age ends
The day your descendants
Outnumber your friends.
One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
Further Reflections on Parsley
Grandpa is Ashamed
A child need not be very clever
To learn that ‘Later, dear’ means ‘Never.’
Was ever lavish.
I love Me
I’m always my own best cheerer;
Myself I satisfy
Till I take a look in the mirror
And see things I to I.
I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.
The summer like a rajah dies,
And every widowed tree
Kindles for Congregationalist eyes
An alien suttee.
Lather As You Go On
Beneath this slab
John Brown is stowed.
He watched the ads
And not the road.
Lines On Facing Forty
I have a bone to pick with Fate.
Come here and tell me, girlie,
Do you think my mind is maturing late,
Or simply rotted early?
Lines Written to Console Those Ladies Distressed by the Lines “Men Never Make Passes. etc.”
A girl who is bespectacled
Don’t even get her nectaled
But safety pins and bassinets
Await the girl who fascinets.
A reference to a poem by Dorothy Parker.
This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.
Old Doctor Valentine To His Son
Your hopeless patients will live,
Your healthy patients will die.
I have only this word to give:
Wonder, and find out why.
Reflection on Babies
A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.
Reflection on Ingenuity
Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.
Reflection On The Fallibility Of Nemesis
He who is ridden by a conscience
Worries about a lot of nonscience;
He without benefit of scruples
His fun and income soon quadruples.
Reflections on a Wicked World
Reflections On Ice-Breaking
When I consider how my life is spent,
I hardly ever repent.
I test my bath before I sit,
And I’m always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.
Song Of The Open Road
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.
The Abominable Snowman
I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,
I’m hoping not to see one,
I’m also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.
The ant has made herself illustrious
By constant industry industrious.
So what? Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?
The camel has a single hump;
The dromedary, two;
Or else the other way around.
I’m never sure. Are you?
The song of canaries
And when they’re moulting,
They’re pretty revolting
One cantaloupe is ripe and lush,
Another’s green, another’s mush.
I’d buy a lot more cantaloupe
If I possessed a fluoroscope.
The trouble with a kitten is THAT
Eventually it becomes a CAT.
The Catsup Bottle
First a little,
Then a lottle.
Cuckoos lead Bohemian lives,
They fail as husbands and as wives,
Therefore they cynically disparage
Everybody else’s marriage.
The cow is of bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other is milk.
The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.
I don’t mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.
The Lord in His wisdom made the fly,
And then forgot to tell us why.
Who wants my jellyfish?
I’m not sellyfish!
Oh, weep for Mr. and Mrs. Bryan!
He was eaten by a lion;
Following which, the lion’s lioness
Up and swallowed Bryan’s Bryaness.
When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.
Tell me, O Octopus, I begs
Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus;
If I were thou, I’d call me Us.
The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I’m glad it sits to lay its eggs.
Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore,
And that’s what parents were created for.
The Perfect Husband
He tells you when you’ve got on
too much lipstick
And helps you with your girdle
when your hips stick.
The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon.
Let others say his heart is big –
I call it stupid of the pig.
Any hound a porcupine nudges
Can’t be blamed for holding grudges.
I know one hound that laughed all winter
At a porcupine that sat on a splinter.
The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.
A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.
Toward a better world I contribute my modest smidgin;
I eat the squab, lest it become a pigeon.
The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.
To Keep Your Marriage Brimming
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong admit it;
Whenever you’re right shut up.
What’s The Use
Sure, deck your limbs in pants,
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance . . .
Have you seen yourself retreating?