Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Classic Poems - The Ostrich by Ogden Nash

by Graham Denton

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet who pushed the delightful possibilities of rhyme to their utmost. Writing mostly in sequences of rhyming couplets, Nash often sacrificed a regular metre, caring little for line length, as long as he said precisely what he wanted to say within the space of each two rhyming lines. Sometimes the lines were so long they almost tumbled off the edge of the page, whilst in others (for example, in The Jellyfish: Who wants my jellyfish?/ I'm not sellyfish!), the entire poem was contained in the space of one short couplet.
Never settling for obvious rhymes, Nash would often corrupt words in such a way that they were no longer “proper” words, yet still comprehensible and suiting perfectly the match that Nash was looking for. The rhyme of “Sahara” and “narra” in The Ostrich is a wonderful example; even though “narra” is quite clearly a made-up word, the reader instantly recognises its meaning.
The Ostrich, one of a carnival of animal poems that Nash entertained both children and adults with in his lifetime, is a poem that highlights Nash’s dextrous wordplay at its very best. The overall image he conjures of a tall, rather ungainly and gangly-legged bird laying its eggs is hilarious; it’s a delicious punch that leaves the reader giddy.  
Like so many of Ogden Nash’s wise and witty verses, The Ostrich has stood the test of time, retaining all of its original fizz and pizzazz, and will no doubt continue to do so. Familiarity doesn’t dull it in any way.  On those grounds it is a poem that can undoubtedly be called a “classic”.

For more of Ogden Nash delights check out Candy is Dandy – The Best of Ogden Nash.
Carlton Books. Available on amazon. 432 pages for around £7. Do you have a favourite “classic” poem? Why not tell us about it!  -RS


  1. There's a similar tradition in limericks which involves messing about with spelling / pronunciation. This is one I wrote a while ago:
    There was a young pupil from Leicester
    Who would go to her teachers and peicester
    She would lock them indoors
    Glue their feet to the floors
    Till finally they came to arreicester

  2. Nice piece Graham. Always loved Ogden Nash meself. The Parent, The Sniffle loads of 'em.

  3. I love Ogden Nash. I have a first edition of 'You Can't Get There From Here' illustrated by Maurice Sendak. He's always inventive and fun.

    What a sticky situation, Trevor. Hope they managed to beicester.

  4. Ogden Nash is a favourite of mine, too - I particularly treasure 'Fleas'- gotta be one of
    the world's shortest poems:

  5. I'm loving the limerick Trev and I love stretched and invented words, it's what we do orally all the time anyway. Did you know simples from the meercat add has made it into the dictionary.

  6. Micky the meercat was covered in pimples
    He shaved all his hair off
    And pushed them all in
    And now they all look like dimples