|Born||August 19 1902
Rye, New York
|Died||May 19 1971 (aged 68)
|Occupation||Poet, author, lyric-writer|
Frederic Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971) was an American poet best known for writing pithy and funny light verse. At the time of his death in 1971, the New York Times said his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry."
Light verse is poetry that attempts to be humorous. Poems considered "light" are usually brief, and can be on a frivolous or serious subject, and often feature wordplay, including puns, adventurous rhyme and heavy alliteration. Typically, light verse in English is formal verse, although a few free verse poets, such as Billy Collins, have excelled at light verse outside the formal verse tradition.
While light poetry is sometimes condemned as doggerel, or thought of as poetry composed casually, humor often makes a serious point in a subtle or subversive way. Many of the most renowned "serious" poets, such as Horace, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and W. H. Auden, have also excelled at light verse. Many profound truths are well expressed with a light touch.
Ogden Nash was born in Rye, New York. His father owned and operated an import-export company, and because of business obligations, the family relocated often.
After graduating from St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island, Nash entered Harvard University in 1920, only to drop out a year later. He returned to St. George's to teach for a year and left to work his way through a series of other jobs, eventually landing a position as an editor at Doubleday publishing house, where he first began to write poetry.
Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland, three years after marrying Frances Leonard, a Baltimore native. He lived in Baltimore from 1934 and for most of his life 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."
His first job in New York was as a writer of the streetcar card ads for a company that previously had employed another Baltimore resident, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nash loved to rhyme. "I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old," he stated in a 1958 news interview. He had a fondness for crafting his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist, though admitting that crafting rhymes was not always the easiest task.
In 1931 he published his first collection of poems, Hard Lines, earning him national recognition. Some of his poems reflected an anti-establishment feeling. For example, one verse, entitled Common Sense, asks:
Nash was regarded respectfully by the literary establishment, and his poems were frequently anthologized even in serious collections such as Selden Rodman's 1946 A New Anthology of Modern Poetry.
Nash was the lyricist 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.
Nash and his love of the Baltimore Colts were featured in the December 13, 1968 issue of LIFE, with several poems about the American football team matched to full-page pictures. Entitled "My Colts, verses and reverses," the issue includes his poems and photographs by Arthur Rickerby. "Mr. Nash, the league leading writer of light verse (Averaging better than 6.3 lines per carry), lives in Baltimore and loves the Colts" it declares. The comments further describe Nash as "a fanatic of the Baltimore Colts, and a gentleman." Featured on the magazine cover is defensive player Dennis Gaubatz, number 53, in midair pursuit with this description: "That is he, looming 10 feet tall or taller above the Steelers' signal caller…. Since Gaubatz acts like this on Sunday, I'll do my quarterbacking Monday." Prominent Colts Jimmy Orr, Billy Ray Smith, Bubba Smith, Willie Richardson, Dick Szymanski and Lou Michaels contribute to the poetry.
Among his most popular writings were a series of animal verses, many of which featured his off-kilter rhyming devices. Examples include "If called by a panther / Don't anther"; "You can have my jellyfish / I'm not sellyfish"; and "The Lord in His wisdom made the fly / And then forgot to tell us why." This is his ode to the llama:
(Nash appended a footnote to this poem: "The author's attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.")
Nash died of Crohn's disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on May 19, 1971. He is interred in North Hampton, New Hampshire. His daughter Isabel was married to noted photographer Fred Eberstadt, and his granddaughter, Fernanda Eberstadt, is an acclaimed author.
A biography, Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light Verse, was written by Douglas M. Parker, published in 2005 and in paperback in 2007. The book was written with the cooperation of the Nash family and quotes extensively from Nash's personal correspondence as well as his 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 dictum, Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses:
He often wrote in an exaggerated verse form with pairs of lines that rhyme, but are of dissimilar length and irregular meter.
The critic Morris Bishop, when reviewing Nash's 1962 Everyone But Thee and Me, offered up this lyrical commentary on Nash's style:
Nash's poetry was often a playful twist of an old saying or poem. He expressed this playfulness in what is perhaps his most famous rhyme. Nash observed the following in a turn of Joyce Kilmer's words "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree."
Similarly, in Reflections on Ice-Breaking he wrote:
He also commented:
His one-line observations are often quoted.
Nash was a baseball fan, and he wrote a poem titled "Lineup for Yesterday," an alphabetical poem listing baseball immortals. Published in Sport magazine in January 1949, the poem pays tribute to the baseball greats and to his own fanaticism, in alphabetical order. Here is a sampling from his A to Z list:
Nash wrote about the famous baseball players of his day, but he particularly loved Baltimore sports.
Nash wrote humorous poems for each movement of the Camille Saint-Saëns orchestral suite The Carnival of the Animals, which are often recited when the work is performed.
Nash's style has proven inimitable. His whimsical use of language has few peers aside from Dr. Seuss. He has been honored by among others the United States Postal Service.
The U.S. Postal Service released a stamp featuring Ogden Nash and six of his poems on the centennial of his birth on August 19, 2002. The six poems are "The Turtle," "The Cow," "Crossing The Border," "The Kitten," "The Camel" and "Limerick One." It was the first stamp in the history of the USPS to include the word "sex," although as a synonym for gender. It can be found under the "O" and is part of "The Turtle." The stamp is the 18th in the Literary Arts section. Four years later, the first issue took place in Baltimore on August 19. The ceremony was held at the home that he and his wife Frances shared with his parents on 4300 Rugby Road, where he did most of his writing.
All links retrieved December 18, 2018.
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