MAY
2002

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

5-23-02

Download the audio of On Six Legs: MP3, WMV.

Ogden Nash Waxed Poetic about Insects


Ogden Nash is one of America's best-known light-verse poets. He was also a TV personality and regular panelist on the show "What's My Line" in the 1950s.

Nash became popular as a poet because of his unconventional and humorous poems about common things in daily life. He did not overlook insects. These creatures became the target of some well-chosen Nash words.

Like most people, Nash was not fond of insects. He asks the big question about insects in his poem, "The Fly."

"God in his wisdom created the fly

And then forgot to tell us why."

He acknowledges that some people appreciate the wonderful world of insects, but not everyone does--including him! He begins his poem, "Creeps and Crawls," with the lines:

"The insect world appealed to Fabre.

I find the insect world macabre."

He concludes with the lines:

"Someday, perhaps, my citronella

Will rank with Chamberlain's umbrella."

Unlike the French naturalist Fabre, who spent his life studying insects, Nash's approach to insects was more practical. He wanted to kill them, in this case, using citronella.

Apparently bees were attracted to Nash. At least, he claimed in his poem, "The Bird to the Bees," that insects, which he called bees, bothered him a lot. Nash, like a number of poets and other people, probably misidentified honey bees as yellow jackets. Much of the behavior he describes in the poem is more like yellow jackets than honey bees. But the honey bee was what Nash had in mind.

The last two lines of the poem read:

"And so I am ridden through life with bees in the saddle and stirrup,

So you take honey if you want, but I’ll take maple syrup."

Nash begrudgingly acknowledges the ecological roles of insects in "Good-By, Bugs."

"Some insects feed on rosebuds,

And others feed on carrion.

Between them they devour the earth.

Bugs are totalitarian."

Of course, some of those roles turn into problems for humans. Such is the case with termites, which ecologically serve as wood recyclers--not a problem to most of us unless they recycle the wood in our structures!

When it comes to the threat of being bitten by a mosquito, Nash knows that it is the female, not the male, that is the threat. In "Boo!" he writes:

"But listen, kids, it's all right,

The male mosquito cannot bite."

Of course, insects like the mosquito have attacked humans for a long time. Forever, according to Nash. He puts it this way in his poem, "Fleas."

"Adam had'em."

If you are wondering about the rest of the poem, wonder no longer, because that is the entire poem.

Another human pest that has been included in poetry is the louse. The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote such a poem. According to Nash in his poem, "The Louse:"

"Robert Burns, the gifted souse,

Kindly immortalized the louse,

Who probably won't, when he is master

Immortalize his poetaster."

So what good is an insect? With apologies to Nash:

One reason for insects is no doubt

To give poets something to write about!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox