Last week I added a book to a tall bookshelf, and wondered, in my purging frame of mind, if there were a book in that collection that I might remove in exchange. A fat volume of Ogden Nash’s poetry caught my eye, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d looked in it, so I ended up chuckling to myself for an hour as I perused the dozen pages that I found marked with post-it’s — by me, of course. I decided to keep the book around. It’s a good one for reading by the fire when one is tired from cleaning out closets and so forth.
Just a little bit about the poet, from this page: “His first writing job, in New York, was composing streetcar card ads for a firm that had previously employed F. Scott Fitzgerald. His passion, though, was rhyme. ‘I think in terms of rhyme,’ he said, ‘and have since I was six years old.’ (He once said that he almost fell in love with a woman named ‘Mrs. Blorange’ because he was so fascinated with her name—orange being one of the few words in the language, along with silver and pilgrim—that has no standard words with which to rhyme.)”
Note: In the poem below, mulcted means swindled.
Experience to Let
Experience is a futile teacher,
Experience is a prosy preacher,
Experience is a fruit tree fruitless,
Experience is a shoe tree bootless.
For sterile wearience and drearience,
Depend, my boy, upon experience.
The burnt child, urged by rankling ire,
Can hardly wait to get back at the fire.
And, mulcted in the gambling den,
Men stand in line to gamble again.
Who says that he can drink or not?
The sober man? Nay, nay, the sot.
He who has never tasted jail
Lives well within the legal pale,
While he who’s served a heavy sentence
Renews the racket, not repentance.
The nation bankrupt by a war
Thinks to recoup with just one more;
The wretched golfer, divot-bound,
Persists in dreams of the perfect round;
Life’s little suckers chirp like crickets
While spending their all on losing tickets.
People whose instinct instructs them naught,
But must by experience be taught,
Will never learn by suffering once,
But ever and ever play the dunce.
Experience! Wise men do not need it!
Experience! Idiots do not heed it!
I’d trade my lake of experience
For just one drop of common sense.
from I’m A Stranger Here Myself © 1938
And here is a bonus poem for you, a wise little rhyme that makes me wonder if its wisdom was for him common sense, or came by experience. From what I can tell, his marriage was till death, and there doesn’t seem to be any drama surrounding it to make a long Wikipedia post. I hope his wife enjoyed his funny verses!
To keep your marriage brimming,
with love in the loving cup,
whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
whenever you’re right, shut up.