Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)
A master of light, whimsical, and sometimes nonsensical verse, Nash started his writing career at Doubleday Page Publishers, where
he wrote his first children's book with Joseph Algers, The Cricket of Garador, in 1925. After six years of writing advertising
copy as an editor and publicist at Doubleday, Nash claimed, he began his career in humorous poetry by scribbling one afternoon. His
scribbles were to become a poem called Spring Comes to Murray Hill, which he threw away. Upon
some thought, however, he retrieved it from the wastebasket and sent it to The New Yorker. His first piece of satiric verse
was published in 1930.
After "Murray Hill" Nash's work began to appear in other periodicals. He was prolific enough that he published a collection of his
poetry, Hard Lines, in 1931. Hard Lines sold out seven printings in its first year and catapulted Nash into his role as the master of
light verse. In 1932 Nash left Doubleday to join the editorial staff of The New Yorker. His steady and lengthy affiliation with the
magazine helped establish its distinctive tone and sense of humor. According to poet Archibald MacLeish, Nash "altered the sensibility
of his time." Even after the widespread reception of his first book, however, Nash still insisted that the whole thing was an accident.
He had already become quite popular with the general public through his work in The New Yorker and "Information Please," a radio quiz
show. Eventually he began to write full-time, publishing over two dozen books of poetry and prose in his lifetime.
In an environment in which people cared little about poetry, Nash managed to be one of the most popular and most quoted poets of his
time, coining such phrases as "candy is dandy but liquor is quicker." His turn of the phrase, his puns, and his nonsensical rhymes
appealed to people of all ages. While speaking in the Library of Congress auditorium, Nash suggested that the average man, surviving
the perils of the nuclear age, needed not only missiles, submarines, and a fallout shelter, but also a few lighthearted laughs to
Although the Atlantic Monthly heralded Nash as "God's gift to the United States" for his insightful commentary on 20th-century America,
his work had international appeal. He was known as the Everyman of his time, the poet of the ordinary and universal. His poems were
humorous not only because they made people laugh, but also because they contained some truth of human experience. His signature style
used exaggeration, an element of surprise, and absurdity juxtaposed with the universal experience with which the average reader can
identify. He was well regarded by critics and the public alike for his inventive titles, his unlikely rhymes, and his ridiculous play
on words. Throughout his career a variety of publications from the Boston Herald to the Saturday Review of Literature sang critical
praise for his work.
Although a great fan of Edward Lear and the limerick, Nash possessed a style that was very irregular indeed. Sometimes his poems
contained only a handful of words; at other times they went on for several lines before ending in a clever or sometimes nonsensical
rhyme. On many occasions he invented a word to fit the rhyme: "Each spring they beautify our suburb, the ladies of the garden cluburb"
("Correction: Eve Delved and Adam Span"). His other rhymes include such sets as nostrilly/tonsilly/irresponsilly ("Fahrenheit
Gesundheit") and tortoises/porpoises/corpoises ("Don't Cry, Darling, lt's Blood All Right").
Not only are his lines and rhymes irregular, but the length of his poems varied greatly. Some verses would go on for pages at a time,
while others began and ended abruptly in two lines. It is quite possible that Nash has written on of the shortest poems in the English
language, "Reflection on a Wicked World": "Purity is obscurity." The themes of his poems varied wildly as well. From getting
eyeglasses as an old man to traveling in Europe, no subject was too banal or far-fetched for Nash. His middle-class life and family
provided no end of inspiration. He wrote of proud parenting, the folly of being a husband, suburban crowds, diets, vacations,
fatherhood, and anything else he could think of.
Through his numerous volumes Nash became well established as a writer of light verse. Even after Hollywood expressed interest in his
work, poetry remained his primary source of income. Although none of his screenplays were produced, his work was oppositioned several
times, providing enough money for him and his wife to travel to Europe. Eventually he returned to the East Coast to continue writing
verse. He also lectured extensively throughout the United States and England. Through his lecture tours he developed a deep respect
and keen understanding of his fellow man, which his work reflected. His television appearances in the 1950s (such as "Masquerade
Party") also helped increase his popularity.
Nash also renewed his interest in children’s literature in the 1950s. He believed that his writing was not just for kids, but rather
lay in a gray area between child and adult worlds. In his numerous volumes for children, such as Custard the Dragon (1959), Nash
continues his setting for universal truth. Nash’s approach to children is neither condescending nor mocking, however; in fact, his
whimsical yet serious attitude toward the young has gained him respect among children of all ages.
When he was not writing poetry, Nash appeared on various radio game and comedy shows in the 1940s and wrote scores for TV shows in the
1950s, including lyrics for the show "Peter and the Wolf." In 1943 Nash collaborated with Kurt Weill and S. J. Perelman on One Touch
of Venus, a musical comedy. He continued to write, publish and lecture until very close to the end of his life.