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RECENT RECITATION HERE OF “Feminine Rhymes” got me thinking about that master of light poetry, Ogden Nash. Which, in turn, encouraged me to reprise a collection of his works.
Linell Nash Smith is one of the poet’s daughters, saying that her father “wrote for Everyman, incisively exposing both the beast and the best in us, evincing all the while an amused yet bemused acceptance of the foibles of the human race.” Clearly Linell knows her way around words too. She and her sister Isabel had also collected a similar anthology, I Wouldn’t Have Missed It, in 1973.
As noted in Wikipedia, “Nash was descended from Abner Nash, an early governor of North Carolina. The city of Nashville, Tennessee, was named for Abner’s brother, Francis, a Revolutionary War general.”
Dropping out of Harvard in 1921 after one year, Nash said he “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.”
Writing streetcar ads, then working as an editor at Doubleday, Nash submitted short rhymes to The New Yorker. He subsequently spent three months in 1931 on its editorial staff.
In 1934, he moved to Baltimore, where he lived until his death in 1971. He once wrote to a friend, “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.”
“When not writing poetry,” Wikipedia says, Nash “made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and toured the United States and United Kingdom and gave lectures at colleges and universities.” He also wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical One Touch of Venus, this show including the song “Speak Low.”
Here are some of my favorite Nash poems. The Best of Ogden Nash also includes many of his more lengthy works. One, “September is Summer, Too or It’s Never Too Late to be Uncomfortable,” begins with the line “Well, well, well, so this is summer, isn’t that mirabile dictu,/ And these are the days when whatever you sit down on you stick to.”
Nash’s poetry of animal pals has long been family favorites of ours.
The Panther. “The panther is like a leopard,/ Except it hasn’t been peppered./ Should you behold a panther crouch,/ Prepare to say Ouch./ Better yet, if called by a panther,/ Don’t anther.”
The Sea Gull. “Hark to the whimper of the sea-gull;/ He weeps because he’s not an ea-gull./ Suppose you were, you silly sea-gull; / Could you explain it to your she-gull?”
The Octopus. “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 Termite. “Some primal termite knocked on wood/ And tasted it and found it good,/ And that is why your Cousin May/ Fell through the parlor floor today.”
The Lama. “The one-l lama,/ He’s a priest./ The two-l llama, He’s a beast./ And I will bet/ A silk pajama/ There isn’t any/ Three-l lllama.* *The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as the three-alarmer. Pooh.”
I recall teaching this one, sans disclaimer, to daughters Suz and Beth when they were learning their numbers (part of my cultural indoctrination, right?).
Maybe you and your family have favorites Nash rhymes? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022