Tribute to Ogden Nash - the King of Light Verse

Ogden Nash  (1902  1971)
Ogden Nash (1902 1971)

Tribute to Ogden Nash

“People of humor are always in some degree people of genius.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Frederic Ogden Nash was an American poet well known for his light verse – poetry concerning amusing or serious subjects featuring puns, creative rhyme and alliteration. The New York Times said his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry."

Ogden Nash (he dropped the Frederic from his name) graduated from St. George's School, Middletown, Rhode Island, and entered Harvard University in 1920, only to drop out a year later. He returned to St. George's to teach for a year and left to work at a series of other jobs, eventually becoming an editor at Doubleday Publishing, where he first began to write poetry.

Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland after marrying a Baltimore native. He lived in Baltimore from 1934 and most of his life until his death in 1971. Although he was born in Rye, New York, Nash thought of Baltimore as home. He once wrote "I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more."

His first job in New York was as a writer of streetcar card ads for a company that had employed another Baltimore resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nash loved to rhyme. "I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old," he once stated. He was fond of inventing his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist. In 1931 he published his first collection of poetry – Hard Lines , earning him national recognition. Some of his poems reflected an anti-establishment feeling. For example, one verse, entitled Common Sense , asks: “Why did the Lord give us agility, If not to evade responsibility?”

When Nash wasn't writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and toured the United States and England, giving lectures at colleges and universities. Nash wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical, One Touch of Venus, and the 1952 revue, Two's Company.

Some of his most popular poems were a series of animal verses which featured his ingenious rhymes. Examples include "If called by a panther / Don't anther"; "Who wants my jellyfish? / I'm not sellyfish!"; and "The Lord in His wisdom made the fly / And then forgot to tell us why."

Here are some of Nash's poetry and aphorisms that made me laugh the most:

Ode to a Llama

The one-L lama, He's a priest ... The two-L llama, He's a beast.

And I would bet A silk pajama ... There isn't any Three-L lllama.

(Nash added a footnote to this poem: "The author's attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.")

He wrote the following verse in response to Dorothy Parker’s “Men don’t make passes, At girls who wear glasses.”

A girl who is bespectacled ... She may not get her nectacled

But safety pins and bassinets ... Await the girl who fassinets.

Nash's poetry was often a creative twist of an old saying or poem. He expressed this playfulness in what is perhaps his most famous rhyme – an observation based on Joyce Kilmer’s words: "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree."

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.

In Reflections on Ice-Breaking he wrote what is probably his second most famouis rhyme:

Candy . . . Is dandy. But liquor . . . Is quicker.

Me? Write verse? Are you serierse? I can't. I'm an ant!
Me? Write verse? Are you serierse? I can't. I'm an ant!

The Ant

The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

The Firefly

The firefly's flame Is something for which science has no name
I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person's posteerier.

The Guppy

Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

Celery

Celery, raw
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed.

The Centipede

Objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he’s not,
Or, if he is, he makes a spot.

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 Turtle

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.

Never peti ... a yeti.
Never peti ... a yeti.

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 Wasp

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.

The Ostrich

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.

The Shrimp

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

The Dog

The truth I do not stretch or shove, When I state the dog is full of love,

I've also found, by actual test, A wet dog is the lovingest.

Some of Ogden Nash's aphorisms and one-line observations are quoted so often, we are familiar with them although we may not realize he was the author.

"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of."

"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."

"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold."

"A husband is a guy who tells you when you've got on too much lipstick and helps you with your girdle when your hips stick."

"People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up."

"Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else."

"Oh, what a tangled web do parents weave when they think that their children are naïve."

"One man's remorse is another man's reminiscence."

"People who have what they want are fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it."

"Professional men, they have no cares; whatever happens, they get theirs."

"The trouble with a kitten is that when it grows up, it's always a cat."

"I think remorse ought to stop biting the consciences that feed it."

"I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance, Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance."

"Indoors or out, no one relaxes in March, that month of wind and taxes, the wind will presently disappear, the taxes last us all the year."

"Marriage is the alliance of two people, one of whom never remembers birthdays and the other who never forgets them."

"The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk."

"An occasional lucky guess as to what makes a wife tick is the best a man can hope for, Even then, no sooner has he learned how to cope with the tick than she tocks."

"Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore, and that's what parents were created for."

"Happiness is having a scratch for every itch."

"I don't mind their having a lot of money, and I don't care how they employ it, but I do think that they damn well ought to admit they enjoy it."

"Sleep is perverse as human nature, Sleep is perverse as a legislature, Sleep is as forward as hives or goiters, And where it is least desired, it loiters."

"The bed is a bundle of paradoxes: we go to it with reluctance, yet we quit it with regret; we make up our minds every night to leave it early, but we make up our bodies every morning to keep it late."

World's largest catsup bottle   Collinsville, Illinois
World's largest catsup bottle Collinsville, Illinois

"Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long."

"The only people who should really sin are the people who can sin and grin."

"There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all."

"To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you're wrong, admit it; Whenever you're right, shut up."

"Whether elected or appointed he considers himself the Lord's anointed, and indeed the ointment lingers on him so thick you can't get your fingers on him."

“That couple will never be incompatible; as long as he has income, and she is pat-able.”

And my all-time Nash favorite: “Shake and shake the catsup bottle. None comes out and then a lottle.”

Ogden Nash, to me, is the embodiment of Aristotle's discerning quote: "The secret of humor is surprise." He was so right.

© Copyright BJ Rakow 2010, 2011. All rights reserved.

B. J. Rakow, Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search just Ain't So. Readers especially enjoy the chapter with dynamic answers to interview questions,

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Comments 25 comments

jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

A very amusing hub, you obviously like ogden Nash as it comes across in your writing. My favorite saying is 'Happiness is having a scratch for every itch."


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

loved this hub, bookmarked and Stumbled Upon!


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

jayjay40 - I'm delighted you were amused, and yes, Ogden Nash has always been a favorite of mine with his eye for the unique and his creative way of expressing it. Intelligence and a sense of humor are high on the list of traits I admire in others.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you Rebecca E for sharing this hub. I respect your good taste! (no humble pie here).


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Howdy Doc - That doggone Nash guy ! He was so close to being as good a nutty poem-writer as I am that, were he not now stone cold dead, he could possibly even catch up to me. Seeing as he was born in Rye, New York, it is little wonder that he developed a "rye" sense of humor. He actually did his work elsewhere. On the other hand, I worked at the big amusement park at Rye Beach (Playland Park). That's what gave me such a big advantage. Even so, I love to read his stuff. He never had a chance to read any of mine, something he regretted for all eternity. I'll make it all up to him in the bye and bye. It is good to meet another Nash fan who enjoys the kind of nonsense (???) that Nash and you and others, and I all have sense enough to love.

Take care and keep smiling. Surely those two things beat being careless and breaking a leg.

Gus ;-)))


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Gus.

Yep, I'm a big fan of Ogden Nash, comics who try to bring more laughter into our world, and hubbers like yourself who enjoy the funny side of life.

When all is said and done, and there seems to be much more said than done, we're only on this planet for a short time, so enjoy! Thanks for visiting.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Good drbj - Just because it is "said," it may never be "done." That is why I will have to look for more of your articles. There are not enough articles on Hubpages that serve to keep us all laughing. Your articles are really great in that respect. You, for someone in the "octo" class, are unusually productive of smiles in those of us lucky enough to read your posts. (Race you to 100 ! )

Gus :-)))


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

OMG, Gus, all that lovely praise and I haven't even paid your fee yet.

I've found that when you get older, as a woman, you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. So far it's working.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Hi again, Doc - I've found that when you get older you feel older. It's funny though - when I was really young and working at things, I bragged about how good I did even though I was so young. Then I got old. The bragging turned to how good I did even though I was ancient. In between those years I just kept my mouth shut because I had nothing about which to brag!

Gus :-)))


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

..thank you for this wonderful primer and introduction to Mr. Nash - I think he and I may be kindred spirits in some ways - lol lol lol .....


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Colin - I wouldn't doubt that for a moment.

If Ogden Nash were alive today,

He just might be able to say

Epi is me in reincarnation

The best damn poet in all tarnation! :)


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA

Good Doctor bj - Well, I simply had to read your article once again. It was as good this time as it was the first time.

Gus :-)))


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Ah, Gus, I always love to read your sweet and gracious comments. Thank you.

But you're no slouch yourself in the writing funny poetry department! :)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

I loathe clever drbjay

He hath such a way

Of stealing my thunder

By plan or by blunder

I wanted to pay tribute

And write somethin' cute

On Ogden Nash's verse

But BJ got there ferse!


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Hey, Docmo, what's the score?

Don't be mad, don't be sore.

You may not have been first

With your clever verse

But I will treasure it for ever more.

Thanks for visiting and writing something 'cute.' :)


SinusSister profile image

SinusSister 4 years ago from Montreal

Ha!He kills me. To you list, may I add Nash's poem, "The Common Cold". You'll find the words on my blog post today, on Sinus Sister.com

http://sinussister.com/blog/the-common-cold-rhyme-...


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, Sinus Sister. Feel free to link this hub to your blog if you wish. Yes, "The Common Cold," is one of Ogden's funniest. Thanks for stopping by.


Sinus Sister 4 years ago

Done! There's a link in the comment section. :)

Feel free to spread the word about my blog, but no pressure (achoo!!!)


Mike 3 years ago

Why did Ogden Nash drop out of Harvard after only a year?


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

That's a great question, Mike. From my research I learned that Ogden's father, Edmund Nash, was a turpentine baron who supplied his product to the U.S. Navy for varnishing their wooden-hulled ships. When ships began to be built with steel hulls, the business sank (sorry!). Ogden had to leave Harvard because of the collapse of his father’s company.

Thanks for asking.


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

"Happiness is having a scratch for every itch." I always enjoyed his stuff! great hub!


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

Ogden was unique with every rhyme,

And that's not easy, time after time.

He's a favorite of mine, too, Chris - thanks for stopping by.


humanmusic 3 years ago

A parody tribute to the master:

Cow-ected

A cow is of the bovine group.

The front is moo, the end is poop.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

I love your parody tribute to Ogden, humanmusic. Very clever. Ogden says he loves it, too.


humanmusic 3 years ago

thx .

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