Sometimes I like to pick up relatively random books and read them just for shits and giggles. One such book I read recently was a book of silly poems about marriage by Ogden Nash (1902-1971), entitled Marriage Lines.
Nash is famous for silly little poems that play around with the English language, such as this one—one of my dad’s all-time favorites to quote for his students—called “The Duck”:
Behold the duck.
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It is especially fond
Of a puddle or pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.
Love it. Another great Nash poem, one of my own favorites, is “The Sniffle”:
In spite of her sniffle
Some girls with a sniffle
Would be weepy and tiffle;
They would look awful,
Like a rained-on waffle,
But Isabel’s chiffle
In spite of her sniffle.
Her nose is more red
With a cold in her head,
But then, to be sure,
Her eyes are bluer.
Some girls with a snuffle,
Their tempers are uffle.
But when Isabel’s snivelly
She’s snivelly civilly,
And when she’s snuffly
She’s perfectly luffly.
Anyway, you get the idea. It’s delightfully goofy stuff like that that was his specialty, and made him a regular in The New Yorker.
This particular book of silly Nash verse on married life was first published in 1934, but my edition was from 1964. I would not exactly recommend it: It’s hardly high art, it’s a hideously yellow book, and much of the content is pretty outdated gender-role-wise. But I thought some of the poems were still cute and witty enough to share. Thus, what follows are some of my favorite silly bits—mostly excerpts—from Nash’s 3/4-century-old poems on marriage…
1.) On being poor and in love:
We’ll live in a dear little walk-up flat
With practically room to swing a cat
And a potted cactus to give it hauteur
And a bathtub equipped with dark brown water.
We’ll eat, without undue discouragement,
Foods low in cost but high in nouragement
And quaff with pleasure, while chatting wittily,
The peculiar wine of Little Italy.
We’ll remind each other it’s smart to be thrifty
And buy our clothes for something-fifty.
We’ll bus for miles on holidays
For seats at depressing matinees,
And every Sunday we’ll have a lark
And take a walk in Central Park.
And one of these days not too remote
You’ll probably up and cut my throat.
2.) On wives who are overly self-deprecating about their appearance:
What do you do when you’ve wedded a girl all legal and lawful,
And she goes around saying she looks awful?
When she makes deprecatory remarks about her format,
And claims that her hair looks like a doormat?
When she swears that the complexion of which you are so fond
Looks like the bottom of a dried-up pond? …
Oh, who wouldn’t rather be on a flimsy bridge
with a hungry lion at one end and a hungry tiger at the other end
and hungry crocodiles underneath
Than confronted by their dearest making remarks
about her own appearance through clenched teeth?
Why won’t they believe that the reason they find themselves
the mother of your children is because you think
of all the looks in the world, their looks are the nicest?
Why must we continue to be thus constantly ordealed and crisised?
I think it high time these hoity-toity ladies were made to realize
that when they impugn their face and their ankles and their waist
They are thereby insultingly impugning
their tasteful husbands’ impeccable taste.
3.) On why marriage is more interesting than divorce:
Just as I know that there are two Hagens, Walter and Copen,
I know that marriage is a legal and religious alliance entered into
by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut
and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.
Moreover, just as I am unsure of the difference between
flora and fauna and flotsam and jetsam,
I am quite sure that marriage is the alliance of two people,
one of whom never remembers birthdays
and the other never forgetsam,
And he refuses to believe there is a leak in the water pipe or the gas pipe
and she is convinced she is about to asphyxiate or drown,
And she says, Quick get up and get my hairbrushes
off the windowsill, it’s raining in, and he replies,
Oh they’re all right, it’s only raining straight down.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because it’s the only known example of the happy meeting
of the immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and combat
over everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life,
particularly if he has income and she is pattable.
4.) On why having someone to love is better than all the rest of it combined:
Lots of people are richer than me,
Yet pay a slenderer tax;
Their annual levy seems to wane
While their income seems to wax.
Lots of people have stocks and bonds
To further their romances;
I’ve cashed my ultimate Savings Stamp —
But nobody else has Frances.
Lots of people are stronger than me,
With greater athletic menaces;
They poise like gods on diving boards
And win their golfs and tennises.
Lots of people have lots more grace
And cut fine figures at dances,
While I was born with galoshes on —
But nobody else has Frances. …
Speaking of wisdom and wealth and grace —
As recently I have dared to —
There are lots of people compared to whom
I’d rather not be compared to.
There are people I ought to wish I was;
But under the circumstances,
I prefer to continue my life as me —
For nobody else has Frances.
5.) On husbandly advice for would-be criminals:
One of the hardest explanations to be found
Is an explanation for just standing around.
Anyone just standing around looks pretty sinister,
Even a minister;
Consider then the plight of the criminal,
Who lacks even the protective coloration of a hyminal,
And as just standing around
is any good criminal’s practically daily stint,
I wish to proffer a hint.
Are you, sir, a masher who blushes as he loiters?
Do you stammer to passersby that you are merely
expecting a streetcar, or a dispatch from Reuter’s?
Or perhaps you are a safeblower engaged in casing a joint;
Can you look at the patrolman in the eye
or do you forget all the savoir-faire you ever loint?
Suppose you are a shoplifter awaiting an opportunity to lift a shop,
Or simply a novice with a length of lead pipe killing time in an alley
pending the arrival of a wealthy fop,
Well, should any official ask you why you are just standing around,
Do you wish you could simply sink into the ground?
My dear sir, do not be embarrassed,
do not reach for your gun or your knife,
Remember the password, which, uttered in a tone of quiet despair,
is the explanation of anyone’s standing around anywhere
at any hour for any length of time:
“I’m waiting for my wife.”
6.) On a wife who plays too much solitaire:
O lady of the lucent hair,
Why do you play at solitaire?
What imp, what demon misanthrope,
Prompted this session of lonely hope?
What boredom drives you, and great Lord!
How can such as you be bored?
The gleaming world awaits your eye
While you essay futility. …
See now the joy that lights your face
Squandered on some fortuitous ace,
Where formerly dark anger burned
When a five perverse would not be turned.
O, know you not, that darkling frown
Could topple Caesar’s empire down;
That quick, bright joy, if flashed on men,
Could sudden build it up again?
Get up! Get up! Throw down the pack!
Rise in your gown of shining black! …
Get up, I tell you, girl, get up!
Wine keeps not ever in the cup;
Music is mortal, comes a day
When the musicians will not play;
Even Love immortal, love undying,
Finds the loved one’s Patience trying.
Let two-and-fifty rivals hiss me —
For God’s sake, girl, come here and kiss me.
7.) On waiting until his life insurance lapses before you kill your husband:
“The outcome of the trial is another warning that if you must kill someone, you should spare the person possessing life insurance. … Figures are available to show that convictions are much more common in ‘insurance murders’ than in other types of homicides.” — Boston Herald
Speak gently to your husband, ma’am,
And encourage all his sneezes;
That nasty cough may carry him off
If exposed to drafts and breezes.
But suppose the scoundrel lingers on
And insists on being cured;
Well, it isn’t a sin if a girl steps in —
Unless the brute’s insured.
Oh the selfishness of men, welladay, welladay!
Oh the sissies, oh the softies, oh the mice!
Egotistically they strive to keep themselves alive,
And insurance is their scurviest device.
Insurance! It’s insurance
That tries a lady’s temper past endurance.
Yet it’s safer, on the whole,
To practice self-control
If there’s apt to be a question of insurance.
Arsenic soup is a dainty soup,
But not if he’s paid his premium.
Or a .32 in a pinch will do,
If you’re bored with the epithalemium.
But to make acquittal doubly sure —
No maybes, no perhapses —
You’ll do well to wait to expunge your mate
Until his policy lapses.
8.) On the peculiar ways a man loves his wife:
I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than commercials are a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.
As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.
I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you truer than a toper loves a brewer,
And more than a hangnail irks.
I love you more than a bronco bucks,
Or a Yale man cheers the Blue.
Ask not what is this thing called love;
It’s what I’m in with you.
9.) On the basics of marital harmony:
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
10.) On accepting rather than always understanding your spouse:
I attribute much of our modern tension
To a misguided striving for intersexual comprehension.
It’s about time to realize, brethren, as best we can,
That a woman is not just a female man.
How bootless, then, to chafe
When they are late because they have no watch with them,
all eleven of their watches are on the dressing table or in the safe;
How fruitless to pout
Because they believe that every time the dog scratches
it really wants to go out;
Give your tongue to the cat
When you ask what they want for their birthday
and they say, Oh anything, and you get anything,
and then discover it should have been anything but that.
Pocket the gold, fellows, ask not why it glisters;
As Margaret Fuller accepted the universe,
so let us accept her sisters.
Women would I think be easier nationalized
And the battle of the sexes can be a most enjoyable scrimmage
If you’ll only stop trying to create woman in your own image.
11.) On wives who try to talk to you as they’re walking away:
[W]hy, when there’s something important to say,
Does she always say it going away?
She’ll remark, as she mounts the stairs to bed,
“Oh, some FBI man called and said . . .”
Then her words, like birds too swift for banding,
Vanish with her upon the landing.
“Don’t you think we ought . . .” Then she’s gone, whereat
The conclusion fades out like the Cheshire Cat.
Yes, her words when weighty with joy or dread
Seem to emerge from the back of her head;
The denouement supreme, the point of the joke,
Is forever drifting away like smoke.
Knowing her custom, knowing the wont of her,
I spend my life circling to get in front of her.
12.) On making it to your 21st wedding anniversary:
A marriage aged one
Is hardly begun;
A fling in the sun,
But it’s hardly begun;
A green horse,
A stiff course,
And leagues to be run.
A marriage aged five
Is coming alive.
Watch it wither and thrive;
Though it’s coming alive,
You must guess,
No or yes,
If it’s going to survive.
A marriage aged ten
Is a hopeful Amen;
It’s pray for it then,
And mutter Amen,
As the names
Of old flames
Sound again and again.
At twenty a marriage
Discovers its courage.
This year do not disparage,
It is comely in courage;
Past the teens
And blue jeans,
It’s a promising marriage. …
[Now t]ilt a twenty-first cup
To a marriage grown up,
Now sure and mature,
And securely grown up.
Raise twenty-one cheers
To the silly young years,
While I sit out the dance
With my dearest of dears.