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Very Like a Whale -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by :
(Poem #854) Very Like a Whale
 One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
 Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
 Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
 Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
    go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
 What does it mean when we are told
 That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
 In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
 To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
 However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
    thus hinder longevity.
 We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
 Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
    gleaming in purple and gold,
 Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
    wold on the fold?
 In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
    there are great many things.
 But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
    and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
 No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
    actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
 Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
    mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
 Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
    at the very most,
 Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
    cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
 But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
    had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
 With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
    to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
    wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
 That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
    from Homer to Tennyson;
 They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
 And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
    after a winter storm.
 Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
    snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
    blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
 And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
 What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
-- Ogden Nash
This is one of my favourite poems by Nash, and seems to build on various
threads running through the Minstrels at the moment (large animals (though
alas no hippopotami), nonsense verse etc!). It is the irreligious tone
combined with the air of the ridiculous that is present throughout that
gives this poem its essence for me. Throughout he is attempting to puncture
the balloon of ostentation that poetry sometimes clouds itself in. The
deliberate misquotes combined with the animal noises ("Woof Woof!")!) give
the poem an air of intelligent farce, that I don't feel is overdone.

[Minstrels Links]

The infamous Assyrian poem:
Poem #718, The Destruction of Sennacherib -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Poems by Ogden Nash:
Poem #402, Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
Poem #542, Will Consider Situation
Poem #625, The Sniffle
Poem #667, Reflections on Ice-Breaking
Poem #848, The Hippopotamus
Poem #325, Common Cold
Poem #353, PG Wooster, Just as he Useter
Poem #388, Kipling's Vermont

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