Ogden Nash

Rhyme and regular meter are out of fashion among modern poets, it seems. These two ancient poetic conventions are seen as archaic and useless survivals, like textual appendixes.

There are still versifiers who persist in rhyming and writing metrically in the face of the sheer seriousness of the current poetic community, a grim phalanx of free verse advocates who tend to frown on such archaic fripperies, viewing rhymers in much the same way many people view the participants in Renaissance Fairs and Frontier Rendevous gatherings.

Nevertheless there is a certain pleasure to be obtained from reading a deftly-turned rhymed verse, like watching a virtuoso juggler at work. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the light verse written at the drop of a verbal hat by commenter Joan Ryan. The Digital Cuttlefish is another master of the form.

Ogden Nash is the grandfather of them all, though. He brought great wit and verbal facility to his rhymes, which are unjustly neglected these days. I was reminded of Nash when I came across this e-mail in a digest of a daily word list:

I’ve never encountered a back-formation more delightful than Ogden Nash’s “glimp”:

A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.

Varun Narasimhachar, Waterloo, Canada

Nash freely played around with spelling and meter, often to a delightful effect. Did you know that he is the originator of that classic rhyme:

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Another good one, a send-up of pedantry;

Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
“You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.”




Filed under Poetry

11 responses to “Ogden Nash

  1. I’ve written a poem about modern verse that is in line with some of the things you pointed out about it:


  2. Joan

    Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker

    Indulge in too much candy and you end up being fat.
    Indulge in too much liquor and you wind up falling flat.
    Diabetes or cirrhosis? Either way you take the oath.
    Is it candy then or liquor? I’d suggest you give up both.

  3. Joan

    If given a choice of a poetic voice
    Between Nash and C.F., I pick Cuttle.
    Although Ogden is fun, Cuttlefish is the one
    Cause his meter is never a muddle.

  4. The Cuttlefish is admittedly a master, but part of Nash’s charm is in his occasional deviance from strict meter. He doesn’t always get away with it, but when he does, the result can be striking.

    The Digital Cuttlefish, though, ventures into the murky waters of political and social commentary, passing the buoyed rope barrier and frolicking out there where the sharks lurk. An example, a stanza from a recent poem:

    A candidate who’s proud to say
    That Jesus is his savior
    Is so much more important than
    That candidate’s behavior.

  5. When one writes in a whimsical fashion
    (I’m too humble to label it Nashian)
    Proper poets will snort,
    Shake their heads, and retort:
    If it rhymes, it must surely lack passion

    For back-formation, let me also recommend Felicia Lamport (my heroine), of “the muse of the week in review”, who lopped off prefixes to create magic:
    Many a new little life is begot
    By the hibited man with the promptu plot.


    Men often pursue in suitable style
    The imical girl with the scrutable smile.

    And she blazed the trail for doggerel in the service of political satire:


    (um… thank you so much for your kind words, which I do not deserve but will do my best to live up to.)

    • “Proper poets” have virtually no one who reads them except other “proper poets” and “proper poet critics”.

    • Joan

      Thank you for the Lamport link. Great stuff! I have no problem with loppin’ off prefixes or suffixes as long as it fixes the meter.
      Your verse is more fulfillin’
      Than Nash or Calvin Trillin.

  6. Joan

    To Dennis, The Bard
    Your Emperor poem was just brilliant. 🙂
    I rarely attempt anything like serious verse. Although I do like modern poetry, I have long suspected that some of these poems were just small essays in bard’s clothing.
    Here’s a silly something I wrote years ago on the subject.

    Too Free Verse

    If I write this
    In couplets,
    Or, instead, just
    Erratically, maybe
    No one will notice
    It is not really poetry,
    But prose.

  7. Joan

    I did it again, Larry. Please delete ‘about’ in that Dennis sentence. It originally denoted the number of years and I decided it didn’t matter.
    As for Nash, Larry, most everyone agrees with you, as he seems to be admired greatly. However, It still grates on my nerves. I was also astounded that he was listed in my poetry anthology, because as a writer of light verse he would not be considered a ‘true’ poet, in the ‘modern’ sense of the word.

  8. That just goes to show you that not everyone likes or wants the implied confinement of the single quotes around ‘modern’. Or ‘true’.

    I removed the offending word in your comment, Joan, with a carefully-wielded scalpel. The bleeding was minimal.

    How cool, I got a comment from a real cephalopod! That doesn’t happen every day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s