Dan Smith
Ogden Nash, a US writer of humorous verse

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was a famous writer of humorous "light verse." Humorous verse is not considered great literature, so he is not considered a great poet. However, he was brilliant and used English in wonderful ways. His verse may be difficult for foreign speakers to understand. It uses somewhat difficult words in surprising ways. He is famous for making surprising rhymes by slightly distorting words. He makes surprising transitions between everyday and dignified language.

Here is an example:

Tableau at Twilight

I sit in the dusk. I am all alone.

Enter a child and an ice-cream cone.

A parent is easily beguiled

By sight of this coniferous child.

The friendly embers warmer gleam,

The cone begins to drip ice cream.

Cones are composed of many a vitamin.

My lap is not the place to bitamin.

Although my raiment is not chinchilla,

I flinch to see it become vanilla.

Coniferous child, when vanilla melts

I’d rather it melted somewhere else.

Exit child with remains of cone.

I sit in the dusk. I am all alone,

Muttering spells like an angry Druid,

Alone, in the dusk, with the cleaning fluid. 

This poem mixes the typical language of serious poetry with everyday language and situations. Coniferous means "bearing cones," but it is only used to describe trees, like pines. Here, the child is carrying an ice-cream cone, so he says the child is "coniferous."

"The friendly embers warmer gleam" sounds like typical poetry. "Embers" are the glowing coals after a wood fire dies down. The normal word order would be "The friendly embers gleam warmer." They are friendly because he likes the warmth. However, the warmth is melting the ice cream.

"Vitamins" are nutrients in food, such as Vitamin D. He says "cones are composed of many a vitamin." This is odd language, we would normally say "ice cream cones contain many vitamins." He is doing it so that he can make the next rhyme. "Bitamin" is not a real word. However, since it rhymes with "vitamin," it is pronounced as "bite 'em in." He does not want a child to bite ice cream cones while sitting in his lap.

"Raiment" is a dignified, literary word for clothing. It is usually used to mean fine clothing, like "the raiment of kings and queens." He says it is not "chinchilla," which is an expensive and luxurious fur. It's an odd word. It's not something a man would usually wear. Why would he bother say it is not chinchilla? As a native speaker, we suspect that he is doing it for the sake of a rhyme. The most popular flavor of ice cream is vanilla, and we can almost guess what the rhyme will be. The cone is dripping melted vanilla ice cream on his clothing.

"Exit child" is a form of words used in plays. When an actor leaves the stage, the stage directions will say "Exit Hamlet" or "Exit Portia." "Exit child" means the child has left.

"I sit in the dusk, I am all alone" sounds like a moment of quiet tranquillity--until we read the final couplet. He is trying to clean ice cream off his clothing.

The Druids were ancient priests in the British Isles. When he says "muttering spells like an ancient Druid," the literal meaning is that he is saying solemn words in an ancient language. We understand that what he is really doing is wearing, using bad language.

Apr 18, 2019 1:34 AM