Thursday, February 5, 2009

Very Like A Whale

By Ogden Nash

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'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 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
of Assyrians.
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 wolf

on
the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there
are
a great many things,
But i don't imagine that among then 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 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.

1 comment:

nmf #7 said...

This is my favorite poem ever, by the way! I quote it routinely!