Frederick Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971), often referred to simply as ‘Ogden Nash’, was an American poet with a signature style of whimsical light verses replete with puns, deliberate misspellings, strangely irregular meter, but always ending in rhymes. Having read Ogden Nash as a child, I always find his poems delightful and utterly enjoyable. I recently came to know that I have another connection to him; apparently, Ogden Nash, a New Yorker by birth, called Baltimore his home, having moved there in 1934, and the Johns Hopkins Hospital was where he was being treated for complications of Crohn’s Disease, and sadly, breathed his last. [Source: Ogden Nash Biography]

Upon his death in 1971, his admirers wrote eulogies using Nash-like frivolous meters. Poem critic and fellow poet Morris Bishop wrote:

Free from flashiness, free from trashiness,
Is the essence of ogdenashiness.
Rich, original, rash and rational
Stands the monument ogdenational.

Nash was known to be somewhat a hypochondriac, and his later collections are littered with what critics considered evidence of this, poems on the topic of his health, featuring pulse-measuring and gazing at the thermometer, eventually leading to a compendium of his medical complaints, very Nash-ly named Bed Riddance: A posy for the indisposed (1971), featuring gems such as:


Nothing is glummer
Than a cold in the summer.
A summer cold
Is to have and to hold.
A cough in the fall
Is nothing at all,
A winter snuffle
Is lost in the shuffle
And April sneezes
Put leaves on the treeses,
But a summer cold
Is to have and to hold.
And there is no rescue
From this germ grotesque.
You can feel it coming
In your nasal plumbing
But there is no plumber
For a cold in the summer.
Nostrilly, tonsilly,
It prowls irresponsilly;
In your personal firmament
Its abode is permanent.
Oh, would it were curable
Rather than durable;
Were it Goering’s or Himmler’s,
Or somebody simlar’s!
O Chi Minh, were it thine!
But it isn’t, it’s mine.
A summer cold
Is to have and to hold.

The common cold seems to be a topic close to Nash’s heart… or perhaps, nose. He once observed, “A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” He even wrote a paean to the Common Cold, written from the perspective of the acerbic, fraught sufferer. Nash subscribed to the inaccurate bacterial origin hypothesis for common cold, when the viral origin of this affliction has been known since at least 1961. (I couldn’t find out when the poem was written.) Regardless, I doubt that with a virus, we would end up with an “LOL-worthy” term such as “Streptococcracy”. Therefore, relax and enjoy this curmudgeonly masterpiece from a master of nonsense poetry.

Common Cold

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I’m not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.
By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever’s hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!
Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.
Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne’er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.
A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare’s plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!