Frederic Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 - May 19, 1971) was an American poet best known for writing pithy, funny, light verse.
Nash was born in Rye, New York. His father owned and operated an import-export company, and because of business obligations Nash's family relocated often.
In 1920 Nash entered Harvard University, only to drop out a year later. He worked his way through a series of jobs, eventually landing a position as a copywriter at a Doubleday publishing house, where he first began to write poetry.
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:
Why did the lord give us agility,
If not to evade responsibility?
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.
He was a master of the surprising, pun-like rhyme, as in his retort to Dorothy Parker's dictum, Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses:
A girl who is bespectacled
She may not get her nectackled
But safety pins and bassinets
Await the girl who fassinets.
He often wrote in a signature verse form, perhaps original with him, that creates a comic effect with pairs of lines that rhyme, but that are of dissimilar length and irregular meter. His poem "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man" uses this device to good effect. He opens by noting
It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant...
He develops this at some length, expounding on the superiority of sins of commission, because
You didn't get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn't slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let's all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round of
unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven't done...
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 (When You Speak Love)."
Nash died in 1971 and is interred in North Hampton, New Hampshire.
Some of Nash's verses have almost become proverbial:
The Camel has a single hump,
The dromedary two,
Or is it just the other way,
I'm never sure -- are you?
Candy is dandy;
But liquor is quicker
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree;
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all
Needs a kick in the pants