Ogden Nash 1902–-1971
(Full name Frediric Ogden Nash) American poet, playwright, and screenplay writer.
Nash attracted readers from all walks of life with his insightful, satirical view of human nature and human foibles in his verse. 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. His unique style is characterized by his willful disregard for grammatical and spelling rules, and his deliberate misspelling of words to force a rhyme. 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, Nash was raised along the East Coast as his father's import-export business frequently moved the family from state to state. He 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 and a brief, unsuccessful stint as a bond salesman. By 1925 he had settled into a career in advertising. It was while writing advertising copy that he 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. After his marriage in 1931, the new roles of husband and father influenced his poetry as his initial crustiness softened into musings over his two small daughters.
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. Harman, 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, he began writing children's poetry in addition to his whimsical verses for adults. Another recurring topic 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. He 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 his reputation as an original, witty, and whimsical creator of humorous verse with wonderful insight into human nature. In 1933 he 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). 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. His ability to delight his readers through comical and entertaining verses often obscured the technical virtuosity required to produce them. He admitted to having “intentionally maltreated and man-handled every known rule of grammar, prosody, and spelling”; after his 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 his reputation, noting that he 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.