Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Had-I-But-Knowns of Ogden Nash

The wonderful Ogden Nash, who was born on this date in 1902, once wrote a whimsical poem about detective fiction called "Don't Guess, Let Me Tell You." The speaker of this particular poem complains of mystery novelists who "belong to the H.I.B.K. School--" that is, the "Had I But Known," and suggests that too many mysteries fall into this category of rather ridiculous plotting.

The poem appeared in the April 20th, 1940 issue of THE NEW YORKER, and for nostalgia's sake, and in Nash's memory, I spent five dollars to read the poem online. I won't plagiarize from the magazine, but I will give you the link if you're a Nash fan: click here to get the specific issue.

Nash was always playful, but sometimes in a pessimistic way; he started his poem "A Bas Ben Adhem" with

"My fellow man I do not care for.
I often ask me, What's he there for?"

Nash had more than one poem about mysteries, so I assume that, like me, he was a fan of the genre. All of his poems were rhymed verse, and Nash said he had tended to think in rhyme from the time he was small.

Thanks to his tendency to think in couplets, we are blessed with an abundance of Nash poetry.

(Image: The Ogden Nash postage stamp, 2002. Link here).