Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)
(Frederic) Ogden Nash, was an American poet well known for his humorous light verse, of which he wrote over 500 pieces. With his unconventional rhyming stanzas and pithy content, he became the United States’ best-known writer of humorous poetry.
Throughout his life, Nash loved to rhyme. He said in 1958, “I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old ‘’, though he admitted that crafting rhymes was not always an easy task and to overcome this, he created his own words whenever actual rhyming words did not exist.
Ogden Nash was born on August 19, 1902 , in Rye, New York, the son of Edmund and Mattie Nash. His father owned and operated an import-export company and following the business, they moved numerous times from north to south.
After graduating from St. George’s School in Newport County, Rhode Island, Nash entered Harvard University in 1920, only to drop out a year later.
He returned as a teacher to St. George’s for one year before returning to New York. There, he took a job selling financial investment bonds, about which he commented “I came to New York to make my fortune as a bond salesman and in two years sold one bond—to my godmother. However, I saw lots of good movies.’’
Nash then took a position as a writer of the streetcar card ads for Barron Collier, an advertising company which previously had employed F. Scott Fitzgerald. Then he spent three months in 1931 working on the editorial staff for ‘The New Yorker’.
In the same year he married Frances Leonard and published his first collection of poems, ‘Hard Lines’, which earned him immediate national recognition. Some of his poems reflected wry, anti-establishment observations such as;
‘Why did the Lord give us agility,
If not to evade responsibility?’
The couple had two daughters, Isabel and Linnell
In 1934, Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he remained until his death in 1971. Nash thought of Baltimore as home. After his return from a brief move to New York, he wrote, ‘I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.’
Nash particularly loved Baltimore sports teams and his admiration of the ‘Baltimore Colts’ was revealed in a ‘ Life,’ magazine article with several poems about the American football team, matched to full-page pictures. Entitled ‘My Colts, verses and reverses’, the issue included his poems and photographs by Arthur Rickerby.
In all he wrote twenty published books of verse and when he was not writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and toured the United States and the United Kingdom, giving lectures at colleges and universities.
Nash was regarded with respect by the literary establishment and his poems were frequently anthologized even in serious collections.
Nash wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical ‘One Touch of Venus’, collaborating with librettist S. J. Perelman and composer Kurt Weill. The show included the notable song ‘Speak Low.’ He also wrote the lyrics for the 1952 revue ‘Two’s Company’.
Among his most popular writings were a series of animal verses, many of which featured his off-kilter rhyming devices such as ‘If called by a panther, don’t anther’; ‘Who wants my jellyfish? I’m not sellyfish!’. In 1971, his New York Times obituary said his ‘droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry’.
Nash was best known for surprising, pun-like rhymes, sometimes with words deliberately misspelled for comic effect, as in his retort to Dorothy Parker’s humorous advice, ‘Men seldom make passes, at girls who wear glasses’ :
‘A girl who’s bespectacled
May not get her nectacled’
Nash died at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital on May 19, 1971, of complications from Crohn’s disease aggravated by a lactobacillus infection.