For the record, I think Ogden Nash was a brilliant, witty man who didn’t let the limitation or logic of the English language stop him from producing rhymes however and whenever he wanted.
But many of his poems drive me up the nearest tree.
It’s a scansion/rhythm thing—his word placements and slapdash meter, those random lines featuring either too many or too few syllables, scatter half-bricks and divots for my inner voice to stumble over. To abruptly change metaphors, I don’t want to have to play twister with syllable emphasis to make things work.*
This may just be me, of course. Many people seem to appreciate Mr. Nash’s natural cadence, and I’m not saying they’re wrong—I can’t, because they aren’t.** I’m just saying that I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out his work.
Except in the line of duty.
Which is why I didn’t offer my opinion when a patron came up to the reference desk Saturday and asked me if I could possibly find this fun little poem with Halcyon in the title and was written by “Oggie-ash something.”
“That’s it!” she said. “Do you like his poetry?”
“Oh, I like all kinds of poetry,” I said.
While I searched, she told me she’d heard the poem on NPR and wanted to give a copy to a friend who was going on a cruise—her first vacation since retirement. And when I found it, I knew that it was not only perfect for the occasion, but one of those rare Ogden Nash poems that could make me understand his popularity.
Pretty Halcyon Days
How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
With ocean galore within reach,
And nothing at all to be done!
No letters to answer,
No bills to be burned,
No work to be shirked,
No cash to be earned,
It is pleasant to sit on the beach
With nothing at all to be done!
How pleasant to look at the ocean,
Democratic and damp; indiscriminate;
It fills me with noble emotion
To think I am able to swim in it.
To lave in the wave,
Majestic and chilly,
Tomorrow I crave;
But today it is silly.
It is pleasant to look at the ocean;
Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall swim in it.
How pleasant to gaze at the sailors.
As their sailboats they manfully sail
With the vigor of vikings and whalers
In the days of the vikings and whale.
They sport on the brink
Of the shad and the shark;
If its windy they sink;
If it isn’t, they park.
It is pleasant to gaze at the sailors,
To gaze without having to sail.
How pleasant the salt anesthetic
Of the air and the sand and the sun;
Leave the earth to the strong and athletic,
And the sea to adventure upon.
But the sun and the sand
No contractor can copy;
We lie in the land
Of the lotus and poppy;
We vegetate, calm and aesthetic,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun.
Oh, yes. This works for me on so many sleep-deprived levels . . . and the sheer unapologetic laziness of it greatly resembles the best parts of my last vacation.
So maybe I misjudged Mr. Nash. Maybe I should go hunting and see if any more of his poems are in the key of my inner voice.
The idea fills me with noble emotion, and perhaps tomorrow, I shall swim in his work.
But for now, I think I’ll calmly vegetate on this one . . .
*Like a songwriter friend once told me, if you’re forced to sing things like “ih-ih-ih-is” to make the line fit the melody, you have some rewriting to do.
**I would never say someone was wrong for liking a poem—even if You Know Who wrote it—because reading poetry is one of the most subjective experiences there is. If someone were to tell me they really enjoyed Ezra Pound’s stuff, I might wonder a little about the color of their subconscious sky, but I wouldn’t tell them they obviously needed their meds adjusted. ‘Course, I probably wouldn’t invite them to convince me to give him another go, but I never said I was objective, either.