Ogden Nash

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Ogden Nash (1949)
Photo of panelist Ogden Nash and Dagmar from the television game show Masquerade Party, 1955
How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don't have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves.

Ogden Nash (19 August 190219 May 1971) was an American poet.


  • Candy
    Is Dandy
    But liquor
    Is quicker.
    • "Reflections on Ice-Breaking" in Hard Lines (1931); this statement is often misattributed to Dorothy Parker.
  • Oh, things are frequently what they seem,
    And this is wisdom's crown:
    Only the game fish swims upstream,
    But the sensible fish swims down.
    • "When You Say That, Smile", as quoted in Saturday Evening Post, 16 September 1933
  • Man is a victim of dope
    In the incurable form of hope.
    • "Good-by, Old Year, You Oaf or Why Don't They Pay the Bonus?" in The Primrose Path (1935).
  • Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn't it, of a long line of proven criminals?
    • "Good-by, Old Year, You Oaf or Why Don't They Pay the Bonus?" in The Primrose Path (1935)
  • Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
    And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.
    • "Everybody Tells Me Everything" in The Face Is Familiar (1940)
A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.
  • A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.
    • "A Dog's Best Friend Is His Illiteracy" in The Private Dining Room (1953)
    • Paraphrased variant: A door is that which a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.
  • I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
    Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.
    • "My Dream" in You Can't Get There from Here (1957)
  • 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 oughtn't...
    • "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man" in The Family Album of Favorite Poems (1959) edited by P. Edward Ernest
  • It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
    That lays eggs under your skin.
    • "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man" (1959)
  • The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if
    some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
    Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.
    • "Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man" (1959)
  • To keep your marriage brimming,
    With love in the loving cup,
    Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
    Whenever you're right, shut up.
    • "A Word to Husbands" in Marriage Lines (1964)
  • Good wine needs no bush,
    And perhaps products that people really want need no
    hard-sell or soft-sell TV push.
    Why not?
    Look at pot.
    • "Most Doctors Recommend or Yours For Fast Fast Fast Relief" in The Old Dog Barks Backwards (1972)
  • Among other things I think humor is a shield, a weapon, a survival kit... So here we are several billion of us, crowded into our global concentration camp for the duration. How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don't have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves.
    • Commencement address at his daughter Linell's boarding school, as quoted in The Washington Post (8 May 2005)
  • Abracadabra, thus we learn,
    The more you create, the less you earn.

    The less you earn, the more you're given,
    The less you lead, the more you're driven,
    The more destroyed, the more they feed,
    The more you pay, the more they need
    The more you earn, the less you keep,
    And now I lay me down to sleep.
    I pray the Lord my soul should take
    If the tax collector hasn't got it before I wake.
  • Oh, what a tangled web do parents weave
    When they think that their children are naive.
    • "Baby, What Makes the Sky Blue?"
  • Behold the hippopotamus!
    We laugh at how he looks to us,
    And yet in moments dank and grim,
    I wonder how we look to him.
  • Any hound a porcupine nudges
    Can't be blamed for harboring grudges.
    I know one hound that laughed all winter
    At a porcupine that sat on a splinter.
  • Hark, hark! the lark
    On windswept bark
    Freezes against a sky of lead!
    Now see him stop,
    Take one small hop,
    And suddenly keel over dead!
    • The Lark
  • The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
    How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
    Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
    Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
    She washed her hands, and she straightened her hair up,
    Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
  • Once in a night as black as pitch
    Isabel met a wicked old witch.
    the witch's face was cross and wrinkled,
    The witch's gums with teeth were sprinkled.
    Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
    I'll turn you into an ugly toad!
    Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
    Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
    She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
    But she turned the witch into milk, and drank her.
  • The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
    He had one eye in the middle of his forehead.
  • She took those pills from the pill concocter,
    And Isabel calmly cured the doctor.

Smoot Smites Smut

  • Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.)
    Is planning a ban on smut.

    Oh rooti-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut.
    And his reverend occiput.
    Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.,
    Grit your molars and do your dut.,
    Gird up your l__ns,
    Smite h_p and th_gh,
    We'll all be Kansas
    By and by.
  • When smut's to be smitten
    Smoot will smite
    For G-d, for country,
    And Fahrenheit.
  • Senator Smoot is an institute
    Not to be bribed with pelf;
    He guards our homes from erotic tomes
    By reading them all himself.
  • Smite, Smoot,
    Be rugged and rough,
    Smut if smitten
    Is front-page stuff.

Free Wheeling (1931)

  • The cow is of the bovine ilk;
    One end is moo, the other, milk.
    • "The Cow".
  • The song of canaries
    Never varies,
    And when they're moulting
    They're pretty revolting.
    • "The Canary"

Happy Days (1933)

  • Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore,
    And that's what parents were created for.
    • "The Parent"; paraphrased variants:
      Children aren't happy without something to ignore, and that's what parents were created for.
      Parents were invented to make children happy by giving them something to ignore.
  • I can't say that I feel particularly one way or the other towards bell-boys,
    But I do admit that I haven't much use for the it's-just-as-well boys,
    The cheery souls who drop around after every catastrophe and think they are taking the curse off
    By telling you about somebody who is even worse off.
    No matter how deep and dark your pit, how dank your shroud,
    Their heads are heroically unbloody and unbowed.
    • "Look for the Silver Lining"

I'm a Stranger Here Myself (1938)

The most exciting happiness is the happiness generated by forces beyond your control.
  • The most exciting happiness is the happiness generated by forces beyond your control.
    • "The Anatomy of Happiness"
  • Remorse is a violent dyspepsia of the mind.
    • "A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes"
  • I think remorse ought to stop biting the consciences that feed it.
    • "A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes"
  • One man's remorse is another man's reminiscence.
    • "A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes"
  • Most bankers dwell in marble halls,
    Which they get to dwell in because they encourage deposits and discourage withdrawals,
    And particularly because they all observe one rule which woe betides the banker who fails to heed it,
    Which is you must never lend any money to anybody unless they don't need it.
    • "Bankers Are Just Like Anybody Else, Except Richer"
  • Every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz.:
    That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is.
    • "England Expects"
  • How easy for those who do not bulge
    To not overindulge!
    • "A Necessary Dirge"
  • Whether elected or appointed
    He considers himself the Lord's annointed,
    And indeed the ointment lingers on him
    So thick you can't get your fingers on him.
    • "The Politician"
  • Camped on a tropic riverside,
    One day he missed his loving bride.
    She had, the guide informed him later,
    Been eaten by an alligator.
    Professor Twist could not but smile.
    "You mean," he said, "a crocodile."
    • "The Purist"
  • There is one thing that ought to be taught in all the colleges,
    Which is that people ought to be taught not to go around always making apologies.
    • "Just Keep Quiet and Nobody Will Notice"
  • So I think there is one rule every host and hostess ought to keep with the comb and nail file and bicarbonate and aromatic spirits on a handy shelf,
    Which is don't spoil the denouement by telling the guests everything is terrible, but let them have the thrill of finding it out for themselves.
    • "Just Keep Quiet and Nobody Will Notice"
  • Listen, buds, it's March twenty first;
    Don't you know enough to burst?

    Come on, birds, unlock your throats!
    Come on, gardeners, shed your coats!
  • Oh, sometimes I sit around and think, what would you do if you were up a dark alley and there was Caesar Borgia,
    And he was coming torgia…
    • "How Now, Sirrah? Oh, Anyhow"

I Have It On Good Authority

  • There are two kinds of people who blow through life like a breeze,
    And one kind is gossipers, and the other kind is gossipees,
    And they certainly annoy each other,
    But they certainly enjoy each other
    Yes, they pretend to flout each other,
    But they couldn't do without each other...
  • Another good thing about gossip is that it is within everybody's reach,
    And it is much more interesting than any other form of speech,
    Because suppose you eschew gossip and just say
    Mr. Smith is in love with his wife.
    Why that disposes the Smiths as a topic of conversation for the rest of their life,
    But suppose you say with a smile, that poor little Mrs. Smith thinks her husband is in love with her, he must be very clever,
    Why then you can enjoyably talk about the Smiths forever.
  • And I also say Pooh for sweetness and light,
    And if you want to get the most out of life, why the thing to do is to be a gossiper by day and gossipee by night.

Good Intentions (1942)

  • God in his wisdom made the fly
    And then forgot to tell us why.
    • "The Fly"
  • Some primal termite knocked on wood
    And tasted it, and found it good!

    And that is why your Cousin May
    Fell through the parlor floor today.
    • "The Termite"
  • The further through life I drift
    The more obvious it becomes that I am lacking in thrift.
    • "A Penny Saved Is Impossible"

Seeing Eye to Eye is Believing

  • When people reject a truth or an untruth it is not because it is a truth or an untruth that they reject it.
    No, if it isn't in accord with their beliefs in the first place they simply say, "Nothing doing," and refuse to inspect it.
  • These are enlightened days in which you can get hot water and cold water out of the same spigot,
    And everybody has something about which they are proud to be broad-minded but they also have other things about which you would be wasting your breath if you tried to convince them that they were a bigot.
  • And I have no desire to get ugly,
    But I cannot help mentioning that the door of a bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly.
  • Naturally I am not pointing a finger at me,
    But I must admit that I find Mr. Ickes or any other
    speaker far more convincing when I agree with
    him than when I disagree.

So Does Everybody Else, Only Not So Much

  • O all ye exorcizers come and exorcize now, and ye clergymen draw nigh and clerge,
    For I wish to be purged of an urge.
    It is an irksome urge, compounded of nettles and glue,
    And it is turning all my friends back into acquaintances, and all my acquaintances into people who look the other way when I heave into view.
  • It is an indication that my mental buttery is butterless and my mental larder lardless,
    And it consists not of "Stop me if you've heard this one," but of "I know you've heard this one because I told it to you myself, but I'm going to tell it to you again regardless..."
  • And what really turns my corpuscles to ice,
    I carry around clippings and read them to people twice.
    And I know what I am doing while I am doing it and I don't want to do it but I can't help doing it and I am just another Ancient Mariner,
    And the prospects for my future social life couldn't possibly be barrener.
    Did I tell you that the prospects for my future social life couldn't be barrener?

Many Long Years Ago (1945)

  • Don't Cry Darling, It's Blood All Right
    • Title of poem.
  • Purity
    Is obscurity.
    • "Reflection On A Wicked World"
  • The turtle trapped 'twixt plated decks
    Doth practically conceal its sex
    I think it clever of the turtle
    In such a fix to be so fertile.
    • "The Turtle"
  • 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.
    • "Song of the Open Road" — this poem is a parody of "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer
  • When called by a panther,
    Don't anther.
    • "The Panther"
  • People expect old men to die,
    They do not really mourn old men.

    Old men are different. People look
    At them with eyes that wonder when...
    People watch with unshocked eyes;
    But the old men know when an old man dies.
    • "Old Men"
  • Passivity can be a provoking modus operandi;
    Consider the Empire and Gandhi.
    • "I Never Even Suggested It"
  • It is my duty, gentlemen, to inform you that women are dictators
    all, and I recommend to you this moral:
    In real life it takes only one to make a quarrel.
    • "I Never Even Suggested It"
  • People who have what they want are very fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it,
    And I wish I could afford to gather all such people into a gloomy castle on the Danube and hire half a dozen capable Draculas to haunt it.
    I dont' mind their having a lot of money, and I don't care how they employ it,
    But I do think that they damn well ought to admit they enjoy it.
    • "The Terrible People"
  • Perhaps indeed the possession of wealth is constantly distressing,
    But I should be quite willing to assume every curse of wealth if I could at the same time assume every blessing.

    The only incurable troubles of the rich are the troubles that money can't cure,
    Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor.
    Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won't buy, but it's very funny —
    Have you ever tried to buy them without money?
    • "The Terrible People"
  • If you don't want to work you have to work to earn enough money so that you won't have to work.
    • "More About People"

A Lady Thinks She Is Thirty

  • Miranda in Miranda's sight
    Is old and gray and dirty;
    Twenty-nine she was last night;
    This morning she is thirty.
  • Silly girl, silver girl,
    Draw the mirror toward you;
    Time who makes the years to whirl
    Adorned as he adored you.
  • Time is timelessness for you;
    Calendars for the human;
    What's a year, or thirty, to
    Loveliness made woman?
  • Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
    Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
    Pick up your glass and tell me, then —
    How old is Spring, Miranda?
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

The Tale of Custard the Dragon

  • Belinda lived in a little white house,
    With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
    And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
    And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
  • Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
    And the little gray mouse, she called him Blink,
    And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
    But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.
  • Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
    And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
    Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
    But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.
  • The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
    And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
    He fired two bullets, but they didn't hit,
    And Custard gobbled him, every bit.
How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun...

Pretty Halcyon Days

  • How pleasant to sit on the beach,
    On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
    With ocean galore within reach,
    And nothing at all to be done!
  • To lave in the wave,
    Majestic and chilly,
    Tomorrow I crave;
    But today it is silly.
    It is pleasant to look at the ocean;
    Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall swim in it.
  • Leave the earth to the strong and athletic,
    And the sea to adventure upon.
    But the sun and the sand
    No contractor can copy;
    We lie in the land
    Of the lotus and poppy;
    We vegetate, calm and aesthetic,
    On the beach, on the sand, in the sun.

Children's Party

  • May I join you in the doghouse, Rover?
    I wish to retire till the party's over.
  • I've earned repose to heal the ravages
    Of these angelic-looking savages.
    Oh, progeny playing by itself
    Is a lonely little elf,
    But progeny in roistering batches
    Would drive St. Francis from here to Natchez.
  • Their joy needs another woe's to cushion it,
    Say a puddle, and someone littler to push in it.
    They observe with glee the ballistic results
    Of ice cream with spoons for catapults,
    And inform the assembly with tears and glares
    That everyone's presents are better than theirs.
    Oh, little women and little men,
    Someday I hope to love you again,
    But not till after the party's over,
    So give me the key to the doghouse, Rover
We love the kindly wind and hail,
The jolly thunderbolt,
We watch in glee the fairy trail
Of ampere, watt, and volt...

A Watched Example Never Boils

  • The weather is so very mild
    That some would call it warm.
    Good gracious, aren't we lucky, child?
    Here comes a thunderstorm.
  • The sky is now indelible ink,
    The branches reft asunder;
    But you and I we do not shrink;
    We love the lovely thunder.
  • The garden is a raging sea,
    The hurricane is snarling;
    Oh, happy you and happy me!
    Isn't the lightning darling?
  • Fear not the thunder, little one.
    It's weather, simply weather;
    It's friendly giants full of fun
    Clapping their hands together.
  • I hope of lightning our supply
    Will never be exhausted;
    You know it's lanterns in the sky
    For angels who are losted.
  • We love the kindly wind and hail,
    The jolly thunderbolt,
    We watch in glee the fairy trail
    Of ampere, watt, and volt.
  • Oh, than to enjoy a storm like this
    There's nothing I would rather,
    Don't dive between the blankets, Miss!
    Or else leave room for Father.

Song To Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children

  • My heart leaps up when I behold
    A rainbow in the sky;
    Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
    When little boys go by.

    For little boys as little boys,
    No special hate I carry,
    But now and then they grow to men,
    And when they do, they marry.
    No matter how they tarry,
    Eventually they marry.
    And, swine among the pearls,
    They marry little girls.
  • A fig for embryo Lohengrins!
    I'll open all his safety pins,
    I'll pepper his powder, and salt his bottle,
    And give him readings from Aristotle.
    Sand for his spinach I'll gladly bring,
    And Tabasco sauce for his teething ring.
    Then perhaps he'll struggle through fire and water
    To marry somebody else's daughter.

Versus (1949)

Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.
  • Whales have calves,
    Cats have kittens
    Bears have Cubs,
    Bats have bittens,
    Swans have cygnets,
    Seals have puppies,
    But guppies just have little guppies.
    • "The Guppy"
  • A young person is a person with nothing to learn
    One who already knows that ice does not chill and fire does not burn...

    It knows it can spend six hours in the sun on its first
    day at the beach without ending up a skinless beet,
    And it knows it can walk barefoot through the barn
    without running a nail in its feet. . . .
    Meanwhile psychologists grow rich
    Writing that the young are ones' should not
    undermine the self-confidence of which.
    • "Fortunately"
  • First
    Let the rockets flash and the cannon thunder,
    This child is a marvel, a matchless wonder.
    A staggering child, a child astounding,
    Dazzling, diaperless, dumfounding,
    Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed,
    A child to stagger and flabbergast,
    Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn,
    And the only perfect one ever born.
    Arrived this evening at half-past nine.
    Everybody is doing fine.
    Is it a boy, or quite the reverse?
    You can call in the morning and ask the nurse.
    • "First Child . . . Second Child"
  • Being a father
    Is quite a bother,
    But I like it, rather.
    • "Soliloquy in Circles"
  • Your hair may be brushed, but your mind's untidy,
    You've had about seven hours' sleep since Friday,
    No wonder you feel that lost sensation;
    You're sunk from a riot of relaxation.
    • "We'll All Feel Better By Wednesday"
  • Indoors or out, no one relaxes
    In March, that month of wind and taxes,
    The wind will presently disappear,
    The taxes last us all the year.
    • "Thar She Blows"
  • Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else...
    • "Let's Not Climb the Washington Monument Tonight"
  • Life has a tendency to obfuscate and bewilder,
    Such as fating us to spend the first part of our lives
    being embarrassed by our parents and the last part
    being embarrassed by our childer.
    • "What I Know About Life"
  • O Adolescence, O Adolescence
    I wince before thine incandescence . . .
    When anxious elders swarm about
    Crying "Where are you going?", thou answerest "Out," . . .
    Strewn! All is lost and nothing found
    Lord, how thou leavest things around! . . .
    • "Tarkington, Thou Should'st Be Living in This Hour"

Possessions are Nine Points of Conversation

  • Some people, and it doesn't matter whether they are paupers or millionaires,
    Think that anything they have is the best in the world just because it is theirs.
  • Other people, and it doesn't matter if they are Scandinavians or Celts,
    Think that anything is better than theirs just because it belongs to somebody else.
  • I think that comparisons are truly odious, I do not approve of this constant proud or envious to-do;
    And furthermore, dear friends, I think that you and yours are delightful and I also think that me and mine are delightful too.


  • Adam
    Had 'em.
    • This poem has widely been credited to Nash as a poem with the title "Fleas", but is actually the work of Strickland Gillilan and was originally titled "Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes." It has been dated to at least 1927, as published in the Mt Rainier Nature News Notes (1 July 1927).
  • A wonderful bird is a pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican.
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week;
    But I'm damned if I see how the helican.
    • "The Pelican" (1910) by Dixon Lanier Merritt is another poem often misattributed to Nash.
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