The People Upstairs by Ogden Nash

‘The People Upstairs’ is a well-known nonsense poem that speaks on themes of friendship and humour. The poem delves into one speaker’s interpretation of what’s going on in the apartment above his own. His guesses are outlandish and funny, but at the same time, they are very apt descriptions of what miscellaneous noise from other floors can sound like. Despite his irritation, the mood is upbeat and entertaining as the speaker takes the reader through surprising and fun imagery. 

The People Upstairs by Ogden Nash

 

Summary of The People Upstairs

The People Upstairs’ by Ogden Nash is a short nonsense poem that describes one speaker’s experience with his upstairs neighbours. 

This speaker is frustrated with his noisy neighbours and throughout the twelve lines of this poem describes what it sounds like from his floor. He imagines them jumping on pogo sticks, making use of a bowling alley, and practicing ballet. These are over the top, amusing description from a speaker who really has no idea what they could possibly be doing to make so much noise. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of The People Upstairs 

The People Upstairs’ by Ogden Nash is a twelve-line poem that’s contained within one stanza of text. These lines are in sets of two, known as couplets, and follow a rhyme scheme that loosely conforms to the pattern of AABBCC, and so on. They change end sounds as the poet saw fit. There are moments in the poem where rather than rhyming perfectly, the couplets create half-rhymes. 

Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “ballet” and “alley” in the first two lines. With the right emphasis or accent these words come close rhyming, but, they only match up do to the similarity in the “-all” sound. 

 

Poetic Techniques in The People Upstairs 

Nash makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The People Upstairs’. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and metaphor. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “week-ends” and “week” in line five and “supplying” and “stick” in line eight. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines seven and eight and eleven and twelve. 

Nash also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For instance, the second, third, and fourth lines, all of which start with the word “Their”. 

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this poem, Nash uses playful and humorous metaphors to depict the noisy movements of the speaker’s neighbours. Their “living room is a bowling alley” and they supply their “guests with Pogo sticks”. These statements also work as a kind of hyperbole. Or, an intentionally exaggerated description, comparison or exclamation meant to further the writer’s important themes, or make a specific impact on a reader. 

 

Analysis of The People Upstairs 

Lines 1-5

The people upstairs all practise ballet
(…)
They celebrate week-ends all the week.

In the first lines of ‘The People Upstairs,’ the speaker begins by making an initial metaphoric and hyperbolic statement about their upstairs neighbours. They “practise ballet” and their living room is a “bowling alley”. These things are of course exaggerations, but through the exaggerations, a reader can intuit the speaker’s own irritation and how noisy it must really be in that building. 

In their bedroom, the speaker says, they “conduct tours” and their “radio is louder than yours”. These lines rhyme perfectly, as do several others in the poem. This is a very common feature of nonsense verse and children’s poetry in general. It helps with the flow of the lines and makes reading the words out loud all the more pleasurable. 

 

Lines 6-12 

When they take a shower, your ceilings leak.
They try to get their parties to mix
(…)
I might love the people upstairs more
If only they lived on another floor.

The upstairs neighbours don’t appear to be annoying their downstairs neighbours on purpose, but they do so anyway. In addition to the noise, there is also the leaky ceiling. 

The speaker hears their noisy parties and feels as though the guests are jumping around on pogo sticks. It is the only explanation for the racket. Even when he thinks that the party is ending and maybe there will be some peace and quiet, it starts up again. The guests depart and the residents go to the “bathroom on roller skates”. 

Even though the speaker is irritated by the situation, he doesn’t seem outright angry. He admits, rather placidly, that he’d “love the people upstairs more” if they lived somewhere other than above him. This is a pleasing conclusion to a very upbeat and amusing poem. 

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