For the uninitiated, Frederick Ogden Nash—or just plain ol’ Ogden Nash as most of his many fans refer to him—could in some ways be considered the psychic twin brother of the other mother that gave birth to Dr. Seuss. The poetry of Nash relies far less on whimsical word invention than do the rhymes of the good Doctor, but he is not above pushing the limits of verbal wordplay to make a rhyme work. What really ties Nash to Seuss is that they are—with precious little room for any scholarly debate—the poets produced in the 20th century whose literary creations are the most fun to read. Even the most steadfast and ornery of poetry-haters can be convinced to read a second poem of Nash after exposure to a first.
One of the most lasting misapprehensions about the Nash’s poetry—and Seuss to a point, but not nearly to the exclamatory point applicable to Nash—is that he is a purveyor of nonsense rhyme. The only application of the word nonsense to the poetry of Ogden Nash is as an accurate description of the viability of using that word in conjunction with his creation. To put it simply: it is utter nonsense to judge Nash’s rhymes as presenting nonsensical context; the reality is that within the comical façade of much of his poetry lies sturdy foundation of truth about the society that was developing around him.
That society was one that developed from the turn of the 20th century into which he was born into the electrified, high-octane, urban jungle and suburban fields of fire that inspired writers as diverse as John Updike and James Baldwin to pick up pens themselves and inscribe the transformation of society they witnesses around them. What personalized Nash’s path to picking up that pen was doubtlessly influenced to a significance extent by being effectively leashed to the darkness inside his bedroom for the year following what was a serious eye infection if not one serious enough to leave him permanently blind. During that period of the loss of his sense of vision his mother homeschooled him, intensifying the power of his sense of hearing as well as heightening the power of his memory and recall. The long-term result of that reapportionment of his sensory abilities is palpably felt when reciting Nash’s verse which so often features the meter and rhythm of mnemonic wordplay.
Such inventive and musical use of the English language almost ensure that Nash would seek a career writing poetry. Today, he would likely be the lyricist for a series of successful Broadway musicals or even perhaps have gone on to earn a living in the writer’s room of The Simpsons. If ever a television show has proven time and again that it has been deeply influenced by the style of Ogden Nash, it would be the tales from Springfield, especially its standing as the premier showcase for musical comedy of the past three decades.
Like that show, the poetry of Ogden Nash has proven timeless. His shorter verses possess all the wit of Oscar Wilde combined with the pithily intelligent outlook on modern life to be found in the epigrams of Nietzsche.