Changes in a poet’s life often impact the topics of their writing, but a poet’s unique tone can survive the transformations. Ogden Nash, a New Yorker born in 1902 grew up in several cities and towns along the East Coast of the U. S. Nash left his job as a copywriter and editor relatively early in his career to dedicate himself solely to poetry. From his very first poem to his last, Nash always incorporated a humorous tone in his poems. During the Great Depression and the beginning of the United State’s involvement in World War II, Nash published his well known poem, “The Hippopotamus” which reflects on that time eriod.
Once he married Frances Rider and had two daughters, he started writing poetry about his family life such as “To My Valentine. ” Nash’s earlier poems were influenced by the Great Depression and World War II, but when he became a loving husband and father, the meaning of his poems changed; however, he maintained his humorous tone and rhyme scheme in all his poems. Frederic Ogden Nash was born in Rye, New York on August 19, 1902. The Nash family lived in America since before the Revolutionary war, and Nash’s great-great grandfather was the governor of North Carolina during the Revolution.
Another one f Nash’s ancestors, a general, gave his name to Nashville, Tennessee. Nash’s parents were Edmund Strudwick and Mattie Nash. Nash’s father was in the import and export business while his mother worked as a housekeeper (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation). His father’s job caused the Nash family to move several times to different locations along the East Coast. As a result of growing up in New York, Georgia, and many other cities, Nash described his unique accent as a “clam chowder of the East Coast-New England with a little Savannah at odd moments” (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation).
Nash attended St. George’s school in Newport, Rhode Island and then went to Harvard College. After one year, Nash dropped out due to financial issues (“The Hippopotamus” 85). Nash went back to St. George to work as a teacher but he couldn’t handle the stress that teaching brought him (“The Hippopotamus” 85). After trying another unfitting job, Nash began working in a marketing department in the Doubleday Publishing House. Along with starting his new job, Nash also began writing his first children’s book called “The Cricket of Caradon. ”
Five years later, in 1930, Nash wrote his first adult humorous poem, “Spring Comes to Murray Hill” (“The Hippopotamus” 85). On a typical summer afternoon Nash glanced at his office window and saw an urban area with tall buildings, a place that was just called a “hill. ” He wrote down a short verse about what he saw and immediately tossed his paper to the trash. Later, Nash found his whimsical poem, he gave it a title and decided to send it to the New Yorker. The poem was accepted and published in the New Yorker (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation).
Following his success in completing his first poem, Nash published his first collection of verses, “Hard Lines. His new work was a huge success; It had seven printings in one year despite the fact that the Great Depression was affecting America terribly (“The Hippopotamus” 85). Nash had begun to make more money from his writing than from working at Doubleday and therefore, he quit his job. He worked for the New Yorker but quit shortly after starting, showing his full dedication to writing books and poetry. (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation). Also in 1931, Ogden Nash married the love of his life, Frances Rider Leonard, and together they had two girls (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation).
Nash also wrote hree screenplays for the MGM. Additionally, Nash wrote a Broadway hit called, “One Touch of Venus. ” Later in his life, Nash focused mainly on writing for children completing the collection “The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus” in 1957 and “Girls are Silly” in 1962 (“Ogden Nash. ” Poets. org). Nash was regularly heard on the radio and watched on TV and lived a celebrity-like life. He was known for his humorous puns and rhymes within his works which have even become part of popular American folklore. He always drew a full crowd for all his readings and lectures (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation).
Nash died in Baltimore, Maryland on May 19, 1971, due to heart failure and was buried in North Hampton, New Hampshire. Ogden Nash’s “The Hippopotamus” written in 1938, is a terse eight lined poem with the message of pride and self-image expressed in a humorous tone. The poem opens with excitement and says “Behold the hippopotamus! ” (Nash “The Hippopotamus” 1). The tone changes dramatically from playful and exciting to dark in the third line where Nash used harsh words such as “dank” and “grim. ” Although the poem contains one dim line (line 3), it continues with a humorous tone that represents Nash’s style.
The last line of the first stanza introduces a new interesting thought: what does the hippopotamus think of us? Giving the hippopotamus the ability to create thoughts, ideas, and opinions is anthropomorphism, a type of personification (“The Hippopotamus” 86). When Nash wrote, “I wonder how we look to him” (Nash “The Hippopotamus” 4), he discusses self image or what others think about us, humans. The second stanza begins with a peaceful approach where Nash refers to the hippopotamus in a respectful manner by calling the hippopotamus “thou”.
The following line proposes that humans elieve that “we really look all right to us” (Nash “The Hippopotamus” 6). The informal diction of “all right” creates an honest observation. This line also shows human pride and repeats the idea of self images; humans perceive their own looks as the standard of what is normal. The poem ends with the conclusion that hippopotamuses look “normal” to other hippopotamuses. Nash writes hippopotamuses as hippopotami which establishes laughter since hippopotami sounds hysterical (“The Hippopotamus” 87-88). Additionally, this poem follows a rhyme scheme and is an iambic tetrameter which allows the oem to flow.
Overall, “The Hippopotamus” is a silly poem about how a hippopotamus may look odd to humans but truthfully, humans probably look awfly eccentric to hippopotamuses (Kelly). This poem was published during the Great Depression, an especially long downturn for the U. S. Many Americans were unemployed and there was a horrendous drought in the middle of the U. S. Due to the economic difficulties, travel was limited which resulted in many people having to stay in their small sealed towns. This closed environment caused curiosity about the outside world.
Nash was one of those curious people who anted to write about unfamiliar species from outside of his country. Magazines sent photographers to take pictures of unfamiliar species and the photographers shared the photos with Americans by putting them in popular magazines. The built up curiosity about the outside world inspired Nash to write a poem about one of the most exotic and exciting creatures, a hippopotamus. Additionally, the poem is fun and whimsical which made it even more entertaining for people to read in such a depressing time period (“The Hippopotamus” 90).
“The Hippopotamus” emphasizes human pride because during the Great Depression the majority of Americans were not proud or happy with themselves. People doubted themselves showing a lack of self confidence which relates to self images. Also, in the early 1930s, World War II took place mostly in Europe and the U. S. managed to stay isolated from the war. The U. S. was dragged into the war the same time “The Hippopotamus” was published. Americans were sent all over the world to fight for their country and yet didn’t go to places where hippopotamuses live. Although this poem was written in a challenging time period, Nash managed to make the poem funny because of his pecific diction like hippopotami.
He was even optimistic and funny at upsetting times in his life. He sticks to his particular humorous tone and fun rhyme scheme even though they didn’t necessarily fit with the helpless time period. Unlike his poem “The Hippopotamus”, Nash wrote “To My Valentine”, a poem where he declared his love to Francis Rider Leonard, his wife. Most poets who explain their love use similes or metaphors to compare their loved ones to beautiful, pleasant thoughts. Nash expresses his love by comparing his wife to extremely terrible situations.
Nash’s similes state that he loves her, “as a hipwrecked sailor hates the sea” (Nash “To My Valentine” 9) or “as a hostess detests unexpected guests” (11). Nash includes imagery of a grapefruit squirting, a duck swimming, and many more throughout his poem. It is clear to the reader that Nash loves his spouse although he claims he loves her “more than a wasp can sting” (13). Additionally, Nash compares situations he hates to the deepness of his love. These strange comparisons make the poem remarkably funny. Going back and forth between the two ideas is effective because of how tremendously different these two extreme cases are.
The umorous, yet somewhat dark tone of this poem, significantly different from other love poems, allows Nash’s poem to stand out in a unique way. Like “The Hippopotamus”, “To My Valentine” follows a rhyme scheme making it flow smoothly. Nash encountered a shift in his life which is evident in his writing. His life before taking care of his family consisted of working as an editor in an extremely rough time period for Americans. Once the Great Depression and World War II ended, Nash’s life changed because he quit his job and became a full time poet, writing about his family.
Quitting his job was what howed that Nash was fully devoted to writing poetry. Nash tried many times to write serious poems but it never worked for him. Nash said it is better to, “laugh at myself before anyone laughed at me” (“Ogden Nash. ” Poetry Foundation). He had a fun personality and loved joking around and laughing. Sticking to his decision on giving up on writing serious poetry, Nash only wrote silly poetry, what he is most famous for. Nash’s family life greatly influenced the topics of his poems. Once Nash married his wife Frances Rider Leonard he writes poems about his feelings which he had never done before.
To match his silly tone, Nash makes fun of the typical love poems. In other words, he mocks love poems giving his poem a funny effect. Once Nash had kids, his life began to change rapidly and therefore he begins writing about his two girls. As a protective father, he wrote poems which expressed his new views on boys and what they will do to his girls. For example, in 1942, Nash wrote “Ask Daddy, He Won’t Know”, a poem about him as a father to his children (Willard 2735). Nash always wrote about topics that strongly connected to his life and therefore the meanings and themes of his poems constantly change.
None the less, all of his works share the same whimsical tone and follow a rhyme scheme. Nash’s big shifts from living in the Great Depression and then becoming a key family member influenced him to write poems about his life; although, the meanings and topics of his poems vary, his humorous tone and rhyme scheme always remained. Nash wrote “The Hippopotamus” and “To My Valentine” in two significantly different parts of his life. “The Hippopotamus” was published early in Nash’s career during the Great Depression.
On the other hand, “To My Valentine” was written after the Great Depression, once Nash was married and became a father. Writing these poems in completely different time periods generated two incomparable poems. Even though, one poem is about self images and the other is about love, they both have a similar humorous tone and rhyme scheme. The humorousness in Nash’s poetry could represent his personality which stuck with him no matter what life threw at him; whether he was going through the toughest time period in U. S. history or the happiest time of his life with his loving family, his funny personality never disappeared.