Ogden Nash Nash, (Frediric) Ogden - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

(Frediric) Ogden Nash 1902–1971

American poet and playwright.

Famous for his outrageous and ingenious rhymes and puns, Nash is acknowledged as the best American writer of light verse of his era. Humor and sensitivity temper his satirical talent for exposing human foibles. Although critics generally deny Nash the status of "serious" poet, his audience is probably larger than that of any other poet in this century.

Two recent posthumous collections, The Old Dog Barks Backwards and A Penny Saved Is Impossible, are delightful additions to the many volumes Nash published during his 40-year career as a poet—a career which began in the editorial department of The New Yorker in 1930.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed. [obituary]; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1; and Something about the Author, Vol. 2.)

William Rose BenéT

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


[We] feel no hesitation in affirming that in these artless lyrics of [Hard Lines] Mr. Nash is also "a good wrietor." In case—as doesn't seem possible—any reader has so far missed acquaintance with the casual Muse of Mr. Nash, we may say that, for one thing, he has turned a new trick in light verse with the aberration of his rhymes….

But there is quite a bit more to Mr. Nash than that. There is his whole point of view, which seems to us so eminently sane and honest that no wonder he has gained a reputation for being a wonderful nonsense-writer…. He is right about literature…. He is right about art…. He is right about people who go abroad, about Mr. Marc Connelly, about the Vanities, and about most ministers of the gospel. He is most refreshing concerning people who are always minding your own business….

Then there are his less philosophical and more purely lyrical moments, as in the "Invocation to Senator Smoot," the poem on Admiral Byrd, "Spring Comes to Murray Hill," "Songs for a Boss Named Mr. Linthicum," "For Any Improbable She," "Hymn to the Sun and Myself," and "I want New York." These contain many fine passages. In comparing Odgen Nash to Milton we should have to go over to the Public Library and do a good deal of reading, so we won't compare him to Milton. The great thing about him is that he doesn't really compare with anyone. There he sits, the antic old philosopher, and puts down most anything that comes into his head, most of which is extremely funny and about as good a picture of his life and times as others have spent volumes on. His compact little book, that fits the pocket like an automatic, is both witty and wise. So if you're feeling terrible about the current depression, take a rhyme or two every half hour. We assure you that you'll soon feel ever so much better! And, oh yes, the last poem in the book, "Old Men," is a real poem, a significant thing extremely well said.

William Rose Benét, "The Funniest Yet," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1931 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. VII, No. 26, January 17, 1931, p. 530.

Lisle Bell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When a new poet comes along, the least a reviewer can do is to find method in his madness—and write a paragraph on the technique of it. This—now that our chortles of enjoyment have partially subsided—we shall undertake.

Briefly and specifically, what Ogden Nash does is to take words apart to see what makes them tick, and put them together so that they click. And not necessarily in the condition in which he found them. Any one who is under the impression that the English language is not sufficiently flexible should study "Hard Lines." It demonstrates that our mother tongue can be made to behave in a manner hardly becoming a mother, but irreproachably amusing. Here the English language is not only flexible; it is double-jointed, ambidextrous, telescopic, kaleidoscopic, and slightly demented. If this isn't flexibility, then a coil spring made out of piano wire is a ramrod.

Mr. Nash proves the poetic possibilities of words which have been lying around untouched since the days of Chaucer and Spenser. Also the poetic possibilities of words which are so young that they are still wearing—as he spells it—"diopes." (Pronounced to rhyme with "calliopes.")

In his more casual moods, Mr. Nash is a philosophic first cousin of Sam Hoffenstein, but deeper down we find more than a trace of Walt Whitman. If you don't believe it, read the poem entitled "I Want New York." A very definite attitude toward life underlies the most skittish of the verses; they have a flavor apart from their pattern and from their infectious novelty. One begins to suspect that there is a vein of thoughtfulness behind the verbal pastiche, and one's suspicions are verified.

Lisle Bell, "Verses That Click," in New York Herald Tribune Books (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), January 18, 1931, p. 7.

The New York Times Book Review

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The informing material of Ogden Nash's "Hard Lines" is the old material of two decades of American satirists. Like Mencken, Mr. Nash is anti-clerical, but a little more anti-Protestant than anti-Papist. He is also anti-work, anti-Senate, anti-aviation, anti-Tammany, anti-Rotarian, anti-vice crusading, and anti-Rudy Vallee. But if Mr. Nash is a member of the civilized minority in his hates, his technique sets him apart from the routineer methods of hawking these staple antipathies. He has … achieved the first new note in light verse that has come into our literature in a long time.

Mr. Nash's trick is an easy one and quite possibly—indeed, very probably—the parodists and imitators will run it into the ground as quickly as the Dorothy Parker last line cold douche was run into the ground. But the future shouldn't be allowed to dampen the spirits of the readers of "Hard Lines." Besides, there is more to these verses, which have been appearing regularly in The New Yorker for some time, than satire and rhymes that have the dropsy. There is, also, a very pleasing fancy.

"Ogden Nash, a Nonchalant Rhymester," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1931 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 25, 1931, p. 4.

C. G. Poore

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Nash deserves well of the Republic. He has given it another good book. May garlands and hosannahs and things attend his way. In the past, he has tormented the language of Manhattan into some of the most flagrant and beguiling lyrics of our time. He has done things to words, that would make Joyce shudder and turn away and say: "Not that, not that!" In "Happy Days" (heartily dedicated to the general proposition: "Far less malice toward none") there is not a chemical trace of reformation. Implausible as it may sound, this is a more diamantine book than "Hard Lines," it wheels more wheedingly than "Free Wheeling." It is as full of new notes as a farm loan bank. Mr. Nash has perfected his output alarmingly.

The London Times has weightily observed that Mr. Nash's verse "would be improved if the author took more care with his rhymes." (The London Times is published in a country whose national anthem rhymes "glorious" with "reign over us.") As a matter of fact he has obviously been influenced by some very fine inspiration to take more care than ever with his rhymes. What could be more scrupulously rhythmic than:

                  Spring is what Winter
                  Always gazinta.

Mr. Nash is not one to waste his shots on the set-ups of contemporary satire. He can deflate more stuffed shirts than a hard rain on a reviewing stand.

C. G. Poore, "Mr. Nash, the Poet to End Poetry, Plunges On," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1933 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 22, 1933, p. 4.

Ted Robinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I tore the paper from this volume, from my perfecto jogged an ash,
And, lo and behold, the book was "The Primrose Path" by Ogden Nash!
Now far be it from me to titter at your
Ideas of what constitutes Literature,
But if anybody asks me anxiously who can rescue humorous poetry from the ash can,
I shall unhesitatingly answer, "Nash can."
I have heard people say, "It is a clever idea,
But he will be unable to keep it up indefinitely, I feah.
And of course, once you see how it's done, anybody can do it easily."
They say that very confidently and breezily—
But I remember that people first said it
When Ogden Nash had only one book ("Hard Lines") to his credit,
And here is the fifth book, and even better than his first one,
And it isn't likely that his fifteenth, even, will be his worst one.
As for anyone doing it, a lot of imitators have gone to it.
And they just can't do it.
This review, for instance, is the usual sort of parody,
And if you don't like it, I don't particularly care a D,
For the more I work over it, the more it gets to be a hash
Of bad rhythm and rough words and nothing at all like Nash.
The difference between Ogden Nash and all the imitations
Is largely a...

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C. G. Poore

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This is no time to sell Nash short. He is still fundamentally and magnificently unsound. "The Primrose Path" riots with authentic blossoms from the Nashochistic garden of verse. And some stuff, of course, that should go right on down that path to the appointed bonfire. For in the past year the Old Master has not been nodding. He has, if anything, been staying up too late, writing, writing, writing to fill cavities in the pages of beautiful letters. He reminds one of the space-writer who took up cartooning and wouldn't turn anything in but drawings of giraffes. You have to prowl around a while among these Milton-length pieces to find what you're looking for. But you find it. The Old M. never really lets you down….

Dedicated, improperly, to the high cause of bringing the limerick back into the drawing room, Mr. Nash offers a new cycle, unostentatiously labeled "Fragments from the Chinese," which contains a variety of specimens that would have pleased Wood-row Wilson, a connoisseur of the form….

We need not compare Mr. Nash to Mr. Hoffenstein or Miss Parker or Belloc or even a Summer's day. He is—as each new volume inches him along toward a five-foot shelf—more and more authentically himself. It may be that a little crop-limitation work on the part of some appropriate NRA agency would have improved this book. It could certainly do with some plowing under. It is—to reveal the obvious in a burst of blinding candor—too long. There's junk in it. But who's to say what's what?… Maybe you could. I couldn't. One man's junk is another man's junket.

C. G. Poore, "Mr. Nash Collects Some Jewels and Junk," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1935 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 17, 1935, p. 4.

Thomas Sugrue

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Judged by the contents of ["I'm A Stranger Here Myself"], Mr. Nash is about halfway on his journey [from Park Avenue to Main Street]. He is getting closer and closer to the fundamental stuff of middle-class American life, and farther away from the artificialities which prompted his first work. He will never be in the same league with Edgar Guest, but he has definitely taken up with the suburbanite who catches the 5:15, and will no more be seen among those folks, who, as he himself testifies, eat opium for breakfast.

The category into which Mr. Nash fits as a writer becomes more clear with each collection of his work. Between the pages of a book, piled one on the other, his verses reveal him as a modern counterpart of the eighteenth century essayist, regarding the elemental traits of human personality as the important and enduring things of life, and dedicating himself to a study and analysis of them. Mr. Nash is alone in his field these days, for the other spirits who were born into our century with the souls of eighteenth century essayists seem to have lost their sense of humor and become psychologists and psychoanalysts. Mr. Nash, thank heaven, was spared to give us his comments on such important problems as the perennial imminence of Monday, the false economic utopia of the middle of the month, fish on Fridays, gadgets at cocktail parties, rich men who complain of hard times and let their poor friends pick up the check, people from New York who take up life and an accent in Virginia, and all the other things which daily annoy and aggravate the average human, and which at the same time hold him in the strong, silken web which human industry and genius have spun for mankind.

Mr. Nash has them all, and comes off with an unusual number of victories. Especially with the suburban snob is he vicious and victorious.

Thomas Sugrue, "Ogden Nash as Essayist-Poet," in New York Herald Tribune Books (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), June 5, 1938, p. 2.

Peter Monro Jack

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["I'm a Stranger Here Myself" is easy] on one's immediate reflexes, it has … cunningly delayed surprises, it has inexhaustible resources and it takes its time to display them. It comes, as I think, at a critical time. Every one has made capital out of Nash's original eccentricities in rhyme. Its schema is well known: is there a rhyme for "gospel"? Of course, it's Pospel. His scherzos and scherzandos are less well understood. They consist of making amiable sport, in the same outré rhymes, of our daily habits, complexes, prejudices and ordinary idiocies. One of our habits, complexes, prejudices and idiocies is to believe in Duty. Wordsworth wrote an Ode to Her—Stern Daughter of the Voice of God. Mr. Nash's response is not yet quite as famous ("Kind of An Ode to Duty")….

It is smart; but it also has a stamina. No one need think that a whole book of this, in what is now a recognized and imitable mode, is dull or even repetitious. Mr. Nash has as many rhymes as we have follies, as many aspects of meter as we have absurdities of demeanor….

Mr. Nash on anything and everything is as funny an essayist in verse as G. K. Chesterton in prose, or Mark Twain, or Saki, or P. G. Wodehouse, or, to come nearer to his habitat, Mr. Nash is as infectious and genuinely inimitable in his poetic homilies as was Ring Lardner in his short stories. Both have made new and original miracles out of the King's and the President's English. Either can be repeated badly enough. But Mr. Nash, like Ring Lardner, easily survives this deluge of flattery, secure in his possession of all the best and worst rhymes outside of the rhyming dictionaries, and quite certain that anything that we do is as comic as anything that we don't do. He covers almost everything, and we may as well lie down and die laughing at almost everything.

Peter Monro Jack, "Ogden Nash, Whose Verses Are Highly Contagious," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1938 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 19, 1938, p. 2.

George F. Whicher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Clearly Ogden Nash is God's gift to the United States. While writers of dismally serious intent are a dime a dozen, a genuine comic talent is nearly priceless. Mr. Nash is our best literary comedian since Will Rogers. He has become, in a strictly Shakespearean sense, America's number one fool, though in any other sense he is nobody's fool.

Mr. Nash's extraordinary faculty for verbal pyrotechnics is happily employed in devising unheard-of rhymes, as when he couples "boomerang" with "zestful tangy Kangaroo meringue." But it is not primarily as a grotesque word-smith that he deserves his laurels. He has a keen eye and a keener nose for what is broadly ridiculous or slightly affected in current ideas and manners, particularly those of metropolitan society, and his reports of his findings are more than traps for the injudicious. They are a species of flypaper that envelops the subject with a glutinous insistence which becomes uproariously funny.

Few readers can get far in Good Intentions without coming upon just the poem they would take a malicious pleasure in sending to So-and-so, or more probably Mrs. So-and-so. In other words Mr. Nash's medicine goes unfailingly to the spot.

George F. Whicher, "'Good Intentions'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1942, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 170, No. 6, December, 1942, pp. 161-62.

Louis Untermeyer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Remembering all the praise that has been spread over Ogden Nash's seven preceding volumes by uncritical admirers and admiring critics—this reviewer having placed himself in both categories—and partially disarmed by the present deprecatory title, it must be admitted that "Good Intentions," the Master's latest collection, is (alas) far from his best. All the favorite Nashian devices are here: the oddly distorted but somehow matching lines, the new and old words startled to find themselves coupled in Procrustean rhyme—e.g., "vestibule" and "indigestibule," "mocassins" and "antitocassins," "heterogeneous" and "an etcetera genius"—the nimble lunacy which builds an anti-climax and topples a social foible with...

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Thomas Sugrue

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The latest collection of Ogden Nash's hymns to Neuros ["Good Intentions"] shows no advance or mutation in technique, but it reflects a more mellow personality, a less subjective approach to life, and a deadlier, deeper wit. Humorists have a melancholy habit of anticipating old age, and although Nash cannot be much more than forty, he has definitely entered what literary historians of the future will no doubt term his "middle period." Two years ago all of Nash's earlier verse appeared in a single volume. Between that book and the present one there are sharp dividing lines. The poet sees them in the mirror when he shaves. The world sees them in his art.

First of all he has become objective, even...

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Walter Blair

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Among the writers of humorous poetry today, undoubtedly the most popular is Mr. Ogen Nash. People hunt out poems of his in the New Yorker or the Saturday Evening Post and read them to guests. His books have now and then made best-seller lists. At times, too, he has been starred—as a reader of his own pieces—on radio programs which entertain millions of people.

One of the pieces in Mr. Ogden Nash's book, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, deals with a lawyer named Ballantine, whose life was blighted by his failure ever to receive any valentines. Talking the matter over with his law partner, Mr. Bogardus (who got plenty of valentines and found them boring), Mr. Ballantine bitterly...

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Russell Maloney

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Nash is the laureate of a generation which had to develop its own wry, none-too-joyful humor as the alternative to simply lying down on the floor and screaming. His ragged verse is remarkably like Ring Lardner's unpruned prose in effect—a catalogue of the annoying trifles that constitute our contemporary civilization, set down with a friendly leer. Lardner wrote about prohibition, golf, the stock market, Americans traveling abroad, million-dollar prizefights and similar nostalgic nuisances; Nash runs the gamut from the depression to Hitler, touching upon such disparate subjects as detective stories, crooners, the theatre-ticket shortage, Father's Day, knitting, colds, fruit salad, bankers, the circus, rain, strong...

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Christopher Morley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ogden Nash has lately published "Versus",] his first collection of sprung or spring-heel rhythms in six years. That has been a long time to wait. It is only eighteen years since his first little book of verse was published, and it is good to see how in that short time he has become a social necessity. He is, of course, a great temographic historian; he can remind us, better than any other writer, what has griped us in our hideous and hellbound civilization. But he plunges the needle with such generous and hypergelastic opiate that even as we perish we bless his name.

I have only one criterion for judging authors: how many are there without whom I could not possibly have lived until now? Ogden Nash...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At the present writing Mr. Ogden Nash is a household word in this country—at any rate, an apartmenthold word. His verse is quoted, often in mild distortion, much quicker than you can say Jack Robinson or Lewis Carroll or Dorothy Parker. He and his rhymes together have become a national institution. So when a new collection of Nash comes off the assembly line the reviewer has only to look it over, note the modern streamlining, the latest gadgets—like the limick—the chromium plate, the hydramatic and lodramatic features, the rear-view wipers, and shuffle together his brief report. It is just about as simple as that….

"Versus" is the latest Nash, and it comes as something of an unabsorbed shock...

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Lloyd Frankenberg

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first glance there is no resemblance between "Family Reunion," Ogden Nash's latest collection of verses, and T. S. Eliot's play of some years back, "The Family Reunion." With second sight, however, and something of a shiver, I have apprehended the striking of at least one identical theme: "I regret that before people can be reformed they have to be sinners."

The theme is struck, yes; so hard it never shows its head again. For Nash's development of this theme is another story; a plangent tangent: "And that before you have pianists in the family you have to have beginners."…

Nash's sense of direction is unerring, if unnerving. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," Robert Frost...

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Irwin Edman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I think practically all members of families except the dog or the cat will want to read ["Family Reunion"], and having read it, will want to meet the author. There may be deeper American poets—though this book is very wise—but surely there cannot be more completely beguiling ones. It is almost a pity that Ogden Nash is most famous for his ingenuity with grace-note rhymes, subtle manhandlings of words so that they are made to fit as rhymes where Webster had not so intended. For his gifts as a poet and a wit are far wider and more various than adroit off-center rhymes. He manages to make the ideas, the foibles, the little vanities, the big issues of our time, even, sing cheerfully in dancing verse.


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Frank Hauser

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For some time now the well of American humour has been drying up. Benchley is dead, Perelman stale, Dorothy Parker no longer seems to favour us; only the cartoonists and one minor poet flow on happily. In his last book, Ogden Nash achieved at least one poem that seems likely to outlast the dust covers, A Carol for Children. The title poem of his new collection, The Private Dining Room, is certainly another. It ranks with the best of Betjeman in charming dexterity. The rhymes, though unexpected, have none of the coyness and artifice that often flaw this writer's work: only too tempting to read out loud, it is a sure-fire anthology piece one will always be glad to come across. The rest of the verses are...

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Richard L. Schoenwald

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[You Can't Get There from Here] is another book by Ogden Nash, a volume that has volume, unlike those which enclose a dozen or half-dozen or even a single poem between boards. Nash has been versifying for nearly three decades, and a long list of sizable books testifies to his industry.

He has mastered a craft and made a body of techniques very much his own. The unexpected rhyme becomes expected, but it never turns out to be exactly predictable, so it still carries a punch. The lines bounce, but not to a metronomic count. Rhyme and rhythm together produce much of Nash's effect, which often proves very neatly satisfying. The rest depends on his subjects. His concerns in this collection remain...

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Morris Bishop

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ogden Nash is the only American except Walt Whitman who has created a new poetic form and has imposed it on the world. The Nashean stanza was foreshadowed, to be sure, by Swift and Gilbert, but then America was foreshadowed before Columbus….

Our author's technique deserves more scholarly analysis than it has received. It depends essentially on rhyme. While most modern poets have been discarding rhyme as an undue restriction on inspiration, Nash recognizes in his readers a delight matching his own in the rime riche or the rime millionnaire, and an ability to carry a rhyme-expectation through a hundred-word line to its triumphant and astounding satisfaction. "Everyone but Thee and Me"...

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Reed Whittemore

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If we are to measure poets by their distinctiveness—and for better or worse the achieving of distinctiveness is the raison d'être for most 20th-century American poetry—it simply won't do to think of Ogden Nash as a minor figure…. [His] death in 1971 left us with acres of Ogden Nashery as well as with a clear—maybe too clear—vision of how the art of light verse should be perpetrated. He created a body of work that went triumphantly against the prevailing esthetic of poetry as a lofty, Sextus-Propertius affair, and he stuck with his creation for nearly forever, thereby becoming the chief poetic practitioner of the grand mundane in our country's most successful literary magazine, The New Yorker. The...

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Best Sellers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Does anyone, nowadays, have to be told to walk (not run) to your nearest bookseller and purchase this latest panacea for whatever ails you? One grieves that [The Old Dog Barks Backwards] is a posthumous edition of a collection of verse by the inimitable Ogden Nash; but it is as loose and lively as he was before in all his years. He comments on the generation gap—at least, the way things are as opposed to the way things were and ought-to-be; he has two sections devoted to creatures one would never-in-the-world think of writing verse about (e.g., a sulphur-bottom whale, a hyena, the coelecanth, the elk, et al.,), and some other topics that you should enjoy for yourself without foremention. I like all of them,...

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Robert V. Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Well, here is Ogden Nash once more in a new selection [A Penny Saved Is Impossible]. He confirmed the existence of the absurd for us when we were young enough really to enjoy discovering there were old misifts who still laughed…. Nash once more spots his sights on the pompous, the pedantic, the arrogant, the pretentious, on the man who knows what's best for all of us, on the fraud, the fool. He once said of himself, "Being both viable and friable, I wish to prolong my existence." He does so right here….

Robert V. Williams, "Language & Literature: 'A Penny Saved Is Impossible'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1982 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation),...

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