The best of Ogden Nash

In a previous review about a poetry book, I wrote:

"Poetry is the most intense and concentrated form of writing, using words, metre, rhyme and format to express thoughts, feelings and ideas that can be fact or fiction. It gets at the marrow of truth and truth-telling using words to create an image, not a picture, of an idea. Poetry slams on the brakes and makes you reconsider what was written. It may very well make you look up words in a dictionary because you do not understand the meaning of the most ordinary words as used in a poem."

I would like to add that it is possible for poetry to be about any subject, from a flea (e.g.,"The Flea" by John Donne) to serious historical events (e.g.,There are numerous poems about numerous wars.). In the hands of an authoritative writer there can be surprises, not only in the use of language, but also the perspective taken.

Quite often the genres of humor and comedy are dismissed as easy to accomplish–they are not. Writing with wit and humor about serious subjects is even more difficult to successfully achieve. The poetry of the American poet Ogden Nash is considered to be "light verse," which can mean a great many things. He was famous for creating unusual rhyming couplets (two sequential lines of poetry that rhyme) that comprise his short and long poems. Nash was irreverent and wise when writing about everyday life, as well as when tackling serious subjects.  His poems are refreshing and astonishing, perhaps more so today than when they were written. 

This collection was edited by Linell Nash Smith, one of Ogden Nash’s daughters.  She selected all the poems in this volume, and provides some background into what it was like growing up with Ogden Nash, a working poet.  As a child she remembered “the ubiquitous yellow legal pads … that seemed almost an extension of my father. … Those words on the pads that lay around the house would one day cement our father’s place in the annals of American letters."  She also has a good estimation about her father's goals and achievements, "He 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.”

In a very short poem, only two lines, a set of couplets, Nash tell us what a child implicitly knows, "A child need not be very clever / To learn that “Later dear” means “Never.” And, the title of the poem is "Grandpa is Ashamed." “Scrooge Rides Again or A Christmas Poem” is a long poem, two and a third pages, all of it written in couplets. It is a confessional poem, where Nash admits to being a modern-day Scrooge, asking time “to turn backward” and, “Let me be a receiver instead of a giver." He wanders through our country’s big cities, listing major expensive department and specialty stores, many do not exist today (Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bergdorf, Bonwit, Tiffany’s, Marshall Field, Neiman-Marcus, Bullock’s, Magnin’s); and then flits off to other countries, noting their high-end shops (Mikimoto, Gucci, Cucci, Hermès, Balenciaga, Fortnum and Mason, Harrod’s, Liberty), and bemoans his stinginess: “I can name the musical B’s without qualms, / Paying homage to Bach and Beethoven and Brahms, / It’s the charge account B’s that ruin my rest, / Such as Bergdorf and Bonwit and Best.”  In "Halloween Hoodlums, Go Home!" Nash states that "no Halloween would be complete without Trick or Treat."  However, the entire idea of the holiday has gotten way out of hand and, "This is a system of extortion that has grown even beyond the incredible and preposterous. / It equals the Mafia in ruthlessness and arrogance, it is altogether Cosa Nosterous."  Dorothy Parker could have said this, but it was Ogden Nash who did, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."  One section, “A Nashional Menagerie” has his numerous poems about domestic and wild animals. These are not gooey or maudlin. While being outdoors and you are beset by flies, consider this two-liner, about "The Fly," "God in his wisdom made the fly / And then forgot to tell us why."

This book has many more short and long poems by Ogden Nash to laugh over; agree or disagree with. You can never judge one of his poems by its title–you will have to read them to find out where the poet has taken you. Here's a small selection of titles to tempt you.


“The Nymph and the Shepherd or She Went That-a-Way”

“Line-Up For Yesterday an ABC of Baseball Immortals”

“Seaside Serenade”

“The Strange Case of the Lovelorn Letter Writer”

“The Filibuster”


“The Wrongs of Spring or No All Fools’ Day Like an Old Fools’ Day

For more books, about or by Ogden Nash, check here.