Very Like a Whale


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 them 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 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.
How about the man who wrote,
Her little feet stole in and out like mice beneath her petticoat?
Wouldn't anyone but a poet think twice
Before stating that his girl's feet were mice?
Then they always say things like that after a winter storm
The snow is a white blanket. 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.


Ogden Nash, Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash: 640 Rhymes, Verses, Lyrics and Poems, ed. Archibald Macleish, Curtis Brown, 1935.