Ogden Nash is best-known for his lighthearted and humorous poems aimed at a primarily young audience. But, there is more to his oeuvre than that. Several of the poems on this list are either more complex than they seem at the outset or are in the end quite impactful and moving.
Best Ogden Nash Poems
‘The Octopus’ is a lighthearted poem that is when one spends more time with it, surprisingly complex. Lovers of nonsense verse will not be disappointed with Nash’s word choices in this four-line poem. The entire poem is addressed to an octopus. In it, the speaker muses over the nature of the creature’s life and limbs. He sees this multi-limbed being and has a hard time understanding it to be one single creature and not multiple.
A Word to Husbands
In this poem, Nash’s speaker describes relationships and speaks on themes of love, perseverance, and humility. It’s only four lines long, but in those lines, he makes clear what is needed to keep a marriage strong. The poem is directed at the male partner is a heterosexual relationship. This person has to, the speaker says, be truthful with their partner but, at the same time, also humble when they’re on the right side of an argument.
This poem is certainly one of Nash’s best-known, even though it is only two lines long. In these two lines, he creates an entertaining depiction of a cow and the thing for which it is most commonly known—milk. The poem also benefits from the use of perfect rhymes.
The People Upstairs
This is a well-known nonsense poem in which Nash speaks about themes of friendship in a humorous and memorable way. Throughout this twelve-line poem, his speaker discusses how loud his upstairs neighbors are and all the outrageous things he thinks they’re doing. These depictions are all hyperbolically entertaining and meant to make the reader smile. He imagines them jumping on pogo sticks, making use of a bowling alley and practicing ballet.
In ‘The Pig,’ Nash’s speaker takes the reader through a few of the things that people can do with pork. We might make sausage, ham, and bacon. In the last two lines of the poem, which is in total only four lines long, Nash’s speaker calls the pig “stupid” for giving itself up to be eaten. This is in contrast, he realizes with the prevailing opinion of the pig that “his heart is big”.
In ‘The Fly,’ Ogden Nash crafts another two-like rhyming couplet that briefly tells the reader something about an animal. In this case, he ponders God’s reason for making a fly. These lines are some of Nash’s most commonly quoted. They’re thoughtful, but at the same time quite funny and endearing.
This poem is quite different from most of the other poems on this list. In it, Nash outlines the difference between the deaths of old men and young. People, his speaker says, expect old men to die. Therefore, they aren’t surprised when they do. He uses several noteworthy lines in the poem, such as “people eat with unshocked eyes”.
A Caution to Everybody
‘A Caution to Everybody’ is yet another short poem. It is five lines long and starts out speaking about an “auk”. He is, the speaker says, becoming extinct because “he forgot how to fly, and could only walk”. The “caution” part of the poem comes next when the speaker tries to remind the reader that humankind might be a danger because we forgot “how to walk and learned how to fly before he / thinked”.
‘The Duck’ is one of many poems that Ogden Nash wrote focused around a specific animal. It is longer than some (at eight lines), but just as entertaining and memorable. In it, he makes use of repetitive words that rhyme with “duck”. There are many other examples of internal rhyme in this piece that make it entertaining to read and very easy to enjoy.
Crossing the Border
This four-line poem depicts the process of aging and the very simple fact that one day you “descendants” are going to “Outnumber your friends”. The short, direct lines that Nash uses in this poem, and all his others, are perfectly able to deliver this message in an impactful way.