See biography by D. M. Parker (2005).
(born Aug. 19, 1902, Rye, N.Y., U.S.—died May 19, 1971, Baltimore, Md.) U.S. writer of humorous poetry. Nash sold his first verse in 1930 to The New Yorker, on whose staff he worked. In 1931 he published Hard Lines, the first of 20 collections that include The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse (1936), I'm a Stranger Here Myself (1938), and Everyone but Thee and Me (1962). His audacious, quotable verse employs delightfully impossible rhymes, puns, and ragged stanzas, often interrupted by digressions. He wrote several children's books and the lyrics for the musicals One Touch of Venus (1943) and Two's Company (1952).
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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 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 professed. He had a fondness for crafting his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist.
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:
When Nash wasn’t writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and toured the United States and England, giving lectures at colleges and universities.
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." Memorable 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 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.
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 wrote about the famous baseball players of his day, but he particularly loved Baltimore sports.