Sunday Poetry: Tin Wedding Whistle, by Ogden Nash

Tin Wedding Whistle, by Ogden Nash

Though you know it anyhow
Listen to me, darling, now,
Proving what I need not prove
How I know I love you, love.
Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;
Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren’t.
Far and wide, far and wide,
I can walk with you beside;
Furthermore, I tell you what,
I sit and sulk where you are not.
Visitors remark my frown
Where you’re upstairs and I am down,
Yes, and I’m afraid I pout
When I’m indoors and you are out;
But how contentedly I view
Any room containing you.
In fact I care not where you be,
Just as long as it’s with me.
In all your absences I glimpse
Fire and flood and trolls and imps.
Is your train a minute slothful?
I goad the stationmaster wrothful.
When with friends to bridge you drive
I never know if you’re alive,
And when you linger late in shops
I long to telephone the cops.
Yet how worth the waiting for,
To see you coming through the door.
Somehow, I can be complacent
Never but with you adjacent.
Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;
Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren’t.
Then grudge me not my fond endeavor,
To hold you in my sight forever;
Let none, not even you, disparage
Such a valid reason for a marriage.
_________________________________________

Poetry tends to be serious stuff. But not always.

Tin Wedding Whistle is one of my old favorites, and one I used in courting my wife. Back in college days, when circumstance kept us apart for entire seasons, I would send her long, earnest letters, leavened with Ogden Nash’s whimsical verse. If you liked this one, go here for a selection of over a hundred poems reflecting Ogden Nash’s skewed, creative and comfortable way with words and subjects.

But, the pipe-smoking English professor asks, is it really poetry? Does it belong to the same family as Shakespeare or Eliot or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Is it Art, or amusement? Does something so light deserve to be taken seriously? Isn’t it really like comparing a cartoon to the Mona Lisa? Isn’t it like comparing a Precious Moments figurine to Pieta?

This English Major believes that Ogden Nash’s poetry does deserve to be appreciated and studied at the same level as the other great works of poetry. Nash’s poetry plays with traditional rhythms and uses them to ricochet reader’s expectations. A sing-songy couplet is followed by a jarringly arhythmic line to snap the reader to attention, then soothed back to metric regularity:

And when you linger late in shops
I long to telephone the cops.
Yet how worth the waiting for,
To see you coming through the door.

Similarly, his choice of words is a vocabulary percussion – typically “poetic” words like complacent, “fond endeavor”, “linger late” clack against words like cops and larnt. Both are richer for the experience.

A tweedy professor, however, would point out the things that Ogden Nash lacks, and I’ll admit that the Professor has a point. Nash is not particularly ambiguous, or even subtle, in his subject matter. You don’t read the above poem and ponder whether a more careful reading will reveal that Nash’s heart longs to break free of his lover, or whether the relationship is secretly abusive. No nuance leads the mind to puzzle over hidden meanings or layered levels of understanding.

It is what it is. The author wants to marry the object of his joy.

So, if you’re a literary snob, I suppose I can forgive you for rolling your eyes at my love of Ogden Nash. But I’d have to ask you whether Gertrude Stein aimed any higher, or whether a poem that nobody reads accomplishes anything at all. At the very least, you must admit that Ogden Nash is a gateway drug for other poetry – people lured in by Nash’s word play and rhythmic tricks may continue on to enjoy Gerard Manley Hopkins or William Carlos Williams.

And if that’s not good enough for you, well, okay. I’ll continue to enjoy a poet who helped me woo my wife, and I suspect that is more than those who prefer Dover Beach can claim for Matthew Arnold.

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