'Very Like A Whale' by Ogden Nash
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One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can'ts seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have
to go outof their way to say that it is like something else.
What foes it mean when we are told
That the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thushinder longevity,
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleamingin purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there
area great many things,
But i don't imagine that among then there is a wolf with purple
and goldcohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actuallylike 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 andbig white teeth and did he say Woof woof?
Frankly I think it very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
at thevery most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohortsabout to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had
toinvent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
topeople they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot
of wolves dressedup in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
from Homerto 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 awinter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket
of snow andI'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
blanket material andwe'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.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Poetry, Very Like A Whale: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Ogden Nash's poem, "Very Like a Whale," is a short and humorous piece that pokes fun at the nature of modern poetry. With just ten lines, Nash manages to express his opinion on the subject and provide a commentary on the state of poetry during his time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the poem's meaning, structure, and language to better understand its significance.
The poem's title, "Very Like a Whale," is a reference to a line from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" where the character Polonius mistakes the shape of a cloud for a whale. Nash uses this reference to highlight the absurdity of modern poetry and the tendency of poets to find meaning in anything. The poem's opening line, "One thing that literature would be greatly the better for," suggests that there is something lacking in modern literature, and Nash believes that it is simplicity.
The following lines, "Would be a more restricted employment of simile and metaphor," reinforce this idea. Nash is arguing that many poets overuse similes and metaphors to the point where they become meaningless and obscure the true message of the poem. He goes on to say that these figures of speech are "like a pair of ragged claws," which is a reference to T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Nash is using this reference to criticize Eliot's use of complex and obscure language in his poetry.
The final line, "The song of canaries in cages tells us nothing more," is a metaphor for modern poetry. Nash is suggesting that much of modern poetry is trapped within the confines of tradition and is unable to offer anything new or meaningful to readers. The metaphor of canaries in cages suggests that these poets are limited in their creativity and cannot break free from the constraints of their art.
The poem is composed of ten lines with no set meter or rhyme scheme. This free verse structure allows Nash to convey his ideas without being constrained by traditional poetic forms. The lack of rhyme and meter also adds to the poem's humor, as it mimics the randomness of modern poetry.
The poem is divided into two stanzas, with the first stanza consisting of four lines and the second stanza consisting of six lines. The difference in length between the two stanzas is deliberate and highlights the importance of the final line.
Nash's use of language in the poem is simple and straightforward, which reinforces his argument for the use of simplicity in modern poetry. He uses everyday language to express complex ideas, which makes the poem accessible to a wider audience.
The poem's use of allusions to Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot adds depth to the poem and shows that Nash is well-versed in literary history. However, these allusions are used to criticize the use of complex language in poetry and reinforce the poem's main argument for the use of simplicity.
"Very Like a Whale" is a satirical critique of modern poetry and the tendency of poets to use complex language and obscure ideas. Nash argues that poetry should be simple and accessible, and that the overuse of similes and metaphors detracts from the true message of the poem. The poem is also a commentary on the limitations of tradition in poetry and how it can stifle creativity and new ideas.
Nash's use of allusions to Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot shows that he is well-versed in literary history, but he uses these allusions to criticize their use of complex language in poetry. The poem's humorous tone and lack of traditional poetic structure add to its effectiveness as a critique of modern poetry.
"Very Like a Whale" is a short but powerful poem that offers a scathing critique of modern poetry. Nash's argument for simplicity and his use of everyday language make the poem accessible to a wider audience and reinforce his point. The poem's use of allusions to Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot adds depth to the poem and shows that Nash is well-versed in literary history. Overall, "Very Like a Whale" is a clever and humorous commentary on the state of modern poetry that still holds relevance today.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry Very Like A Whale: An Analysis of Ogden Nash's Classic Poem
Ogden Nash, a renowned American poet, is known for his witty and humorous poems that often poke fun at human nature and society. One of his most famous works, "Poetry Very Like A Whale," is a satirical take on the nature of poetry and its interpretation. In this article, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this classic poem.
The poem begins with the line, "Poetry, to be understood, must be clear." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Nash is making a statement about the importance of clarity in poetry. He is suggesting that poetry should not be overly complicated or obscure, but rather should be easily understood by the reader.
Nash then goes on to compare poetry to a whale, stating that "it mustn't be fancy." This comparison is interesting, as whales are often seen as majestic and awe-inspiring creatures. However, Nash is suggesting that poetry should not be overly grandiose or pretentious. Instead, it should be simple and straightforward, like a whale.
The next line, "Whales and poets do not have to be beautiful," further emphasizes Nash's point. He is suggesting that poetry does not have to be aesthetically pleasing or conform to traditional standards of beauty. Instead, it should be judged based on its content and message.
Nash then goes on to say that "they are judged by their utility." This line is particularly interesting, as it suggests that both whales and poets are judged based on their usefulness. In the case of whales, they are often hunted for their oil and meat. In the case of poets, their usefulness lies in their ability to convey a message or emotion through their words.
The next few lines of the poem are perhaps the most famous: "A poem should not mean / But be." This line has been interpreted in many different ways over the years, but at its core, it suggests that poetry should not be overly concerned with conveying a specific message or meaning. Instead, it should simply exist as a work of art, appreciated for its beauty and form.
Nash then goes on to say that "Up to a point, a poem is like a song / You can't tune it, but it's all right." This line is interesting, as it suggests that poetry is similar to music in that it cannot be "tuned" or adjusted to fit a specific mold. However, Nash is suggesting that this is okay, and that poetry should be appreciated for what it is, rather than what it could be.
The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most poignant: "A poem should be motionless in time / As the moon climbs." This line suggests that poetry should be timeless, existing outside of the constraints of time and space. It should be appreciated for its beauty and form, rather than its relevance to a specific moment in history.
Overall, "Poetry Very Like A Whale" is a satirical take on the nature of poetry and its interpretation. Nash is suggesting that poetry should be simple, straightforward, and appreciated for its beauty and form, rather than its message or meaning. By comparing poetry to a whale, he is emphasizing the importance of clarity and utility in poetry, while also suggesting that it should exist outside of the constraints of time and space. This classic poem is a testament to Nash's wit and humor, and continues to be appreciated by readers and scholars alike.
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