Ogden Nash admired the acerbic couplets of Dorothy Parker, including her famous remark that “Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses.” His early contributions to The New Yorker were “Random Reflections” in verse, including the oft-quoted lines on “Ice-Breaking”: “Candy/ Is dandy/ But liquor/ Is quicker.” His sentences could be gnomic, like this one or its successor, “Pot/ Is not.” More often, they would tumble headlong in search of a rhyme, often violating standard syntax and spelling to get the rhyme. He claimed to have learned his technique from reading bad poetry; in particular he mentioned Julia A. Moore (1847-1920), known as the Sweet Singer of Michigan after the title poem of her most enduring book. Mark Twain claimed that Moore had “the touch that makes an intentionally humorous episode pathetic and an intentionally pathetic one funny.” Nash’s humor was intentional, unlike Moore’s; he claimed to have “intentionally maltreated and man-handled every known rule of grammar, spelling, and prosody,” but his rhythms and rhymes were just as bad.
“Spring Comes to Murray Hill”
Nash’s first published poem, in 1929, shows his technique fully formed. The poem consists of fourteen lines, in seven rhymed couplets, and each of the rhymes is a stretch. In the fourth line, Nash turns the noun “gargle” into “goggerel” to rhyme with “doggerel,” which seems an apt characterization of the writing. The speaker is Nash himself, an office worker on Madison Avenue whose mind wanders during a bout of spring fever. There is no real point to the wandering, which takes him from Missouri to Massachusetts and from his chiropodist to John the Baptist, who becomes the “Bobodist.” There is only the vague wish for freedom, symbolized by the “wings of a bird.” By the illogic of rhyme, the “bird” can take the speaker to Second Avenue and even to “Third.”
“More About People”
Nash began writing for publication when the United States was entering the Great Depression. Although he wrote for a magazine that targeted New York’s affluent social set, he became increasingly aware of the gap between the rich and the poor. A contribution from 1930, “More About People,” shows his awareness that “work is wonderful medicine” for anyone in danger of starvation. Seeking a rhyme for “medicine,” he runs through a list of employers, “Firestone and Ford and Edison,” using the well-known names to evoke successful people. Nevertheless, he sides with the employed rather than with the employers. The poem continues through eight couplets, ending with “a nasty quirk”: “if you don’t want to work you have to work to earn enough money...
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