November 10, 2005

N is for Ogden Nash

I won't get to O until next week after the marathon and associated trip, so if anyone else wants to vote, there's plenty of time.

While I'm on N, I'd like to start by giving thanks to the editors of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. I was assigned it as the textbook for my Poetry class freshman year, and it's probably gotten more post-class reading than all of my other college texts combined. I think I have the Third Edition. The covers are creased and curling, the page corners are bent, and it gives the general impression of a book that has been well-loved. It's a huge book, with everything from anonymous fourteenth century ballads on up to what may have been almost the first twentieth-century poetry I'd read that wasn't either magazine doggerel or part of a book and meant to advance the story. It was probably my first exposure to the world of poetry beyond the Victorian- or frontier-influenced collections of Favorite Verses or the standard Great Works included in high school or junior high text books. I have several other poetry volumes now, but the Norton is still my go-to anthology when I want to look something up, and the only collection I know that has a broader selection of English verse is the Internet itself.

This is an appropriate choice for two days after I discussed Edward Lear:

is for Ogden Nash, who in some ways did for adults what Lear did for children.

Though his verse is as silly as Lear's at times, it shows a sardonic sensibility that conjures up the great Hollywood comedies of the 1930s and 1940s:

What's the use? Sure, deck your limbs in pants, Yours are the limbs, my sweeting. You look divine as you advance . . . Have you seen yourself retreating?

The verse form varies with the subject, and the scansion is perfect except when it deliberately isn't, reminding me of the advice to abstract artists to learn the rules so you know how to break them. Like Lear, Nash never let lack of a rhyme stop him:

Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

As a pilot, I can't resist this one:

No, You be a Lone Eagle

I find it very hard to be fair-minded
About people who go around being air-minded.
I just can't see any fun
In soaring up up up into the sun
When the chances are still a fresh cool orchid to a paper geranium
That you'll unsoar down down down onto your (to you) invaluable
I know the constant refrain
About how safer up in God's trafficless heaven than in an automobile
or a train
But ...
My God, have you ever taken a good look at a strut?
Then that one about how you're in Boston before you can say antidis-
So that preferring to take five hours by rail is a pernicious example of
At least when I get on the Boston train I have a good chance of landing
in the South Station
And not in that part of the daily press which is reserved for victims of
Then, despite the assurance that aeroplanes are terribly comfortable I
notice that when you are railroading or automobiling
You don't have to take a paper bag along just in case of a funny feeling.
It seems to me that no kind of depravity
Brings such speedy retribution as ignoring the law of gravity.
Therefore nobody could possibly indict me for perjury
When I swear that I wish the Wright brothers had gone in for silver
fox farming or tree surgery.

And yet, Nash's humor is rarely more than a little biting, and never cruel. His love for his family and joy in life come through often and vividly:

Always Marry an April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

Posted by dichroic at November 10, 2005 01:00 PM

Reflections on Ice-breaking
Is Dandy
But Liquor
Is Quicker.

Posted by: Pratt at November 11, 2005 01:50 PM

I still have my Norton as well! Useful thing.

Posted by: Arianne at November 13, 2005 02:52 PM
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