Ogden Nash 1902–1971
(Full name Frediric Ogden Nash) American poet and playwright.
Nash enjoyed one of the largest audiences of this century, attracting readers from all walks of life with his insightful, satirical view of human nature and human foibles. His biting wit was tempered by humor and sensitivity, enabling him to tread lightly over touchy subjects, including the behavior of other people's children, social affectations, and illness. Nash's unique style is characterized by his willful disregard for grammatical and spelling rules, and his deliberate mis-spelling of words to force a rhyme, such as spelling diapers "diopes" to rhyme with "calliopes." Many of Nash's poems have been so widely quoted, they have reached near-proverbial status. "Candy / Is dandy, / But liquor / Is quicker," and "If called by a panther, / Don't anther" are two Nash poems that are so familiar to the public that they are often attributed to "Anonymous." While the unconventional nature of his verse has denied him the status of a "serious" poet, Nash remains one of the most read and quoted poets of this century.
Born in Rye, New York, to a family of old Southern stock, Nash was raised along the Eastern Coast as his father's import-export business frequently moved the family from state to state. This nomadic childhood resulted in Nash's unique accent, which was part Southern drawl, and part New Englander. Nash attended St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island, and Harvard University for one year, 1920-1921. Forced to drop out to earn his living, Nash tried his hand at several professions, including teaching at his alma mater, St. George's, and a brief, unsuccessful stint as a bond salesman. By 1925 Nash had settled into a career in advertising with the publishing house Doubleday, Page, later to become Doubleday, Doran. During this time, Nash attempted to write serious poetry, "sonnets about beauty and truth" in the tradition of Byron, Keats, and Shelley. It was while writing advertising copy at Doubleday, Doran, Nash found his poetic voice. His poem "Spring Comes To Murray Hill" was jotted down in a fit of procrastination and later sent to the New Yorker magazine, which published it in 1930. The poem exhibited all the traits that were to become Nash's characteristics: the whimsical tone, the outrageous mis-spellings and mis-pronunciations. Also present was Nash's characteristic theme—the trivial, often-overlooked details of life in the city, viewed through a cynical, almost curmudgeonly perspective.
Nash married Frances Leonard in 1931. His new roles of husband and father influenced his poetry as his initial crustiness softened into musings over his two small daughters, beginning with Happy Days. In 1936, Nash moved with his family to Hollywood where he wrote screenplays for MGM. During that time he produced The Shining Hair with Jane Murfin, The Feminine Touch with George Oppenheimer and Edmund L. Hartman, as well as The Firefly. None of these met with much success, and a somewhat discouraged Nash returned to the East Coast in 1942. One good thing came out of his time in Hollywood, however, and that was his friendship with S. J. Perelman, with whom he collaborated on the book and lyrics for One Touch of Venus, a smash hit during Broadway's 1943 season. In the 1950s and 1960s, Nash began writing children's poetry in addition to his whimsical verses for adults. Parents Keep Out: Elderly Poems for Youngerly Readers, The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, and Custard the Dragon are a few of his works addressed to children, partly influenced by his grandchildren, even as grandfatherly ruminations entered his verses for adults. Another topic that occurred with increasing frequency in Nash's later years was mild complaints about sickness and aging, always with a comic bent. Indicative of his position in American poetry, Nash was a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Nash died in 1971 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Nash published his first poem, "Spring Comes to Murray Hill," in the New Yorker magazine in 1930. His first collections of poems, Hard Lines (1931) and Free Wheeling (1931), established Nash's reputation as an original, witty, and whimsical creator of humorous verse with wonderful insight into human nature. In 1933 Nash wrote Happy Days, which introduced new themes of matrimony, household crises, and fatherhood. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Nash continued to produce collections in the same characteristic style that distinguished his verse, including The Primrose Path (1935), The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse (1936), I'm a Stranger Here Myself (1938), Good Intentions (1942), and Many Long Years Ago (1945). Nash collaborated on the smash Broadway musical One Touch of Venus in 1944, co-authoring the book and lyrics with S. J. Perelman. During the remainder of his career, Nash continued to write whimsical verse for adults, and began to write children's poetry as well, such as The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (1957), Custard the Dragon (1959), The Adventures of Isabel (1963), and The Mysterious Ouphe (1965).
Although Nash was largely ignored by most critics in his lifetime, he was well liked by the public. Nash's ability to delight his readers through comical and entertaining verses often obscured the technical virtuosity required to produce them. Nash admitted to having "intentionally maltreated and man-handled every known rule of grammar, prosody, and spelling"; after Nash's death, a New York Times obituary by Albin Krebs suggested that, despite this disregard for convention, Nash's verse reveals "a carefully thought-out metrical scheme and a kind of relentless logic." Critics in more recent years have begun to reevaluate Nash's reputation, noting that, throughout his career, Nash demonstrated great flexibility and versatility of the English language in volume after volume. Moreover, his social and political satirical skills have earned him comparisons to the great eighteenth-century satirists Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.