Although the book is a collection of humorous poems that seem random in arrangement, an overall unity is achieved by several strategies. Short, whimsical pieces on animals, for example, frame the Custard poems. It is as if the reader, like Belinda herself, is beginning a kind of imaginary journey through a zoo, a menagerie ranging from baby pandas to a porcupine that sat on a splinter. The first Custard poem is then followed by a series of delightful verses on domestic subjects, such as sniffles, uncles, and even clean platters. After the tale of “Custard and the Wicked Knight,” the journey concludes with a few poems on humorous insects such as the praying mantis, the centipede, and the ant and comes to an end with the galloping Wapiti, which goes “hippity-hoppity” off the final page.
The book gains significance as well from the tone and content of the Custard poems. They stand at equal positions near the beginning and end of the book and sound like bedtime stories told by a parent. The most implausible events—a pirate coming nonchalantly through a window or a wicked knight at the door—occur naturally to Belinda, as to any child, in a tone devoid of surprise or improbability. These events suggest that in Belinda’s world of imagination, a knight can enter while she is doing the dishes, just as lions are naturally chased downstairs by her pets. Even a “realio, trulio little pet dragon” is part of that world, without reservation or...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
As early as 1936, Ogden Nash was producing poems that centered either on children or on adults’ relationship with them. In fact, “The Tale of Custard the Dragon” was originally published in that year and collected in The Bad Parents’ Garden of Verses. Some of his most famous animal poems, such as “The Turtle,” appeared even earlier, in Hard Lines (1931). Thus, Custard and Company is in effect an anthology of some of Nash’s most representative work, containing as it does poems written at the beginning of his career in the early 1930’s and spanning three decades to include verse published at the peak of his powers in the early 1960’s.
Custard and Company shows a writer who, like James Thurber and Robert Benchley, to whom he has often been compared, holds a comic vision about life’s more mundane experiences. As a humorist, Nash often scoffs at himself as a representative of the “average guy,” a comic Everyman who invariably sees the incongruities in domestic relationships but never indicts the world at large or meanly satirizes it. Little in his wit suggests desperation or bitterness, only a wry awareness of life’s inanities. His poetic voice is sane, tolerant, and gentle.