Saturday, March 13, 2010

Professional Men

By tradition, Saturday here at Gates of Vienna is either Ranting Day or Poetry Day, depending on my mood and circumstances. Due to the political events of the last week or so, I have used up most of my supplies of rant, so today will feature light verse while I replenish my stores of invective.

There will be real posts later on, but here we go off-topic for a brief interlude.

The late Ogden Nash was the most accomplished American practitioner of light verse in the 20th century. His heyday lay between the wars, although his career and his wit extended considerably after World War Two. In addition to his whimsical poetry, he was renowned for his epigrams. A couple of examples:

People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up.


Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.

Ogden NashHis poems were characterized by absurd rhymes, extravagant diction, and ridiculously extended (or reduced) meter. His most famous examples were very brief eponymous vignettes about animals, but he wrote many other poems which never escaped into fame, and now reside only in dusty old volumes that can be quite difficult to find.

By the time the internet came along, his aficionados had become so few that many of his lesser-known poems are unavailable on the web. The oeuvre of Ludacris or the philosophical ramblings of Eminem are easy to locate in their entirety, but not the poems of Ogden Nash.

I discovered this unfortunate fact last year when I went looking for two of my favorites. They are now obscure, and no amount of googling turned up complete and reliable versions. So I went off to the library the other day and borrowed Verses From 1929 On — which had probably lain untouched on the same shelf since the last time I needed it, fifteen or twenty years ago.

Finding the poems in question proved a formidable task. None of his books has an index of first lines, and any given title bears only the most tenuous of connections to the poem itself. I had to page through the table of contents four times before I finally found both poems I was looking for.

The poem below cried out to be posted quickly, because in a year or two — assuming the economic crisis follows its expected course — his stanzas will no longer be funny.

By then they will be too true.

Here is Ogden Nash ruminating about Professional Men:
- - - - - - - - -
I Yield to My Learned Brother
Is There a Candlestick Maker in the House?
by Ogden Nash

The doctor gets you when you’re born,
The preacher, when you marry,
And the lawyer lurks with costly clerks
If too much on you carry.
Professional men, they have no cares;
Whatever happens, they get theirs.

You can’t say When
To professional men,
For it’s always When to they;
They go out and golf
With the big bad wolf
In the most familiar way.
Hard times for them contain no terrors;
Their income springs from human errors.

The noblest lord is ushered in
By a practicing physician,
And the humblest lout is ushered out
By a certified mortician.
And in between, they find their foyers
Alive with summonses from lawyers.

Oh, would my parents long ago
Had memorized this motto!
For then might I, their offspring, buy
A Rolls or an Isotto.
But now I fear I never can,
For I am no professional man.

You can’t say When
To professional men,
For it’s always When to they;
They were doing fine In ’29,
And they’re doing fine today.
One beacon doth their paths illumine,
To wit: To err is always humine.


laine said...

I've put: "Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long" in my quote file under "progressives". It captures their ridiculous belief that the history of humanity is one way constant improvement instead of an ebb and flow, with amnesia for past mistakes and refusal to learn from experience, the hallmark of modern liberalism.

Instead, libs preach for constant change, as though nothing is worth preserving and change is always for the good instead of often for the bad. "Change" was the campaign slogan that made a back to the future raving marxist POTUS.

Of course, when "progressives" have everything to their liking i.e. big government run by their elitist selves running the lives of peasants, then all change must stop.

The progressives are busily trying to progress us all over that cliff. Obama even used the term "standing on a precipice" referring to the impending Great Health Care Control Bill.

Professor L said...

I've bookmarked that. I'll have to see if my library has any of his poems (or if there are any copies at the Sydney Uni library. That one's the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, apparently).

Takuan Seiyo said...

The whole idea of “professional” for a lawyer as opposed to cabinetmaker is as preposterous as calling those in blue-collar jobs “working men.” If truth be known, there are lawyers who are professional only as thieves. On the other hand, most lawyers who make their living that way work far harder than any cabinetmaker can possibly conceive. Just say aloud, “three thousand billable hours.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons why so many of them have lost their souls. When you don’t have time to smell the roses, etc.

The whole institution of law has become a trillion ton leaden hobble bringing us down and keeping us there. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why lawyers, judges etc. are predominantly on the side of liberal policies increasing immigration, obsessed with “equal rights” and “nondiscrimination.” The more “beautiful diversity” the lesser the social consensus, the unwritten code of norms, moral codes and expectations by which civilized society runs. Hence the greater the importance of the law as the fixer of norms and the money value of the franchise on which legal “professionals” have a monopoly.

I always ask American expats in Japan, “Why have you chosen to live in Japan.” The Number 1 answer is “I wanted to live in a country with no lawyers.”

christian soldier said...

swiped it-gave you credit though..

Papa Whiskey said...

Ogden Nash was and is a joy. Here's one of my favorites:

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.


Professional Man
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

John said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort to transcribe this wonderful Nash poem. I've referenced your post on in a look at the relevance of Ogden Nash's works in today's world. I excerpted your post at length which I hope is ok with you.

Baron Bodissey said...

JohnBrady --

What a delight to find out about your blog! By all means, borrow my transcriptions & commentary.

Just FYI, I also transcribed Ogden Nash's St. Patrick's Day poem.