‘To My Valentine’: An Unconventional Love Poem by Ogden Nash Compared With a Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Updated on March 4, 2020
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis studied for a B.A (Hons) in English Literature after taking early retirement. She was awarded her degree at the age of 67.

About Saint Valentine

Valentine was a Christian martyr. He was canonised in 469 C.E., at which time 14th February was established as his saint's day by Pope Gelasius 1. The day did not have associations with romantic love until the 14th century, when legends that characterise the day were established by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle. Since then a wealth of poems expressing romantic love have entered the literary canon. Two very different expressions of love of are examined in this article.

To My Valentine by Ogden Nash (1941)

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That's how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That's how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That's how you're loved by me

The Tone of 'To My Valentine'

The title of a poem usually provides a clue to the content and so the reader expects that this poem to be romantic in tone. But Odgen Nash has rejected the usual cliches which are so often used to convey love and, unconventionally, compared the emotion with hatred, irritation, and pain; thus confounding readers expectations brought about by the title of the poem. The poem abounds with references to, and comparisons with, unpleasant bodily sensations and emotions. Note, for example - the sting of a wasp, the jerk of a subway train, hatred etc. Nash consciously defamiliarises our familiarity with perceptions of what constitutes love and how love is described. But love can arouse similar sensations to those experiences referred to in the poem.

The tone of the poem might be described as avuncular insofar as it is the way in which an adult and a child might communicate with each other about love. Some might describe the comparisons in the poem as rather silly. Others may feel that the poem is charming, amusing, and unusually creative; candid in its straightforward openness and sincerity of expression.

Nash is renowned for his use of the punning device - note the word jerk, which describes the movements of a subway train but is also an American slang word to describe a mean person. Also, note the allusion in the reference to gin rummy as a bore - perhaps the card game gin rummy is boring to the voice but perhaps also he would prefer a shot of the hard stuff.

The final verse of the poem cleverly affirms that the speaker is telling the truth in his declarations of love. You may also feel that there is a reference to the conventional childlike idea of heaven in this verse insofar as the speaker is calling into question the idea that heaven is above the stars.


The Structure of To My Valentine

  • five stanzas
  • each stanza has four lines
  • there is no pattern to the syllables in the lines - the lines are of a dissimilar length and irregular metre, varying from six syllables to twelve syllables. The rhythm is rather sing-song.
  • the end rhyme of the lines is erratic - ABCA/DEFE/GHIJ/KLML
  • Repetition - the words 'I love you' are repeated five times, and reversed to 'you I love' at the end of verse three. The word 'hates' is repeated three times in the first verse and once in the third. You might take a view this repetition of the stark contrast between love and hate was an affirmation of the power of love, particularly relevant at the time of publication (when the world was at war).

Clarification of Reference to the Axis in the First Verse of 'To My Valentine'

This poem was published in 1941, at the height of the Second World War. The Axis was the three powers, namely Germany, Italy and Japan, that signed the Tripartite Pact in 1939 (in the interests of their individual expansionist ambitions) to fight against the Allied Forces during the war.

About Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

  • Odgen Nash was an American who wrote over 500 pieces of light verse
  • He was America's best-known writer of humorous verse
  • He went up to Harvard University in 1920 but dropped out a year later
  • Nash was descended from Abner Nash, an early governor of North Carolina. The city of Nashville, Tennessee, was named for Abner's brother, Francis, a Revolutionary War general.
  • The best of Odgen Nash's work was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and 1972.
  • Nash was also a lyricist for Broadway musicals, made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows, and toured the United States and Britain giving lectures in colleges and universities.

I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old

— Ogden Nash 1958

Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Which of these two poems do you like best?

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Secret Marriage of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett

Robert Browning and Elizabeth married secretly, at St Marylebone Parish Church in London, as she knew her father would disapprove of the match. The couple honeymooned in Paris before moving to Italy, in September 1846. Elizabeth's father consequently disinherited her, as he did each of his children who married.

Elizabeth's second edition of Poems (1850) included, at the behest of her husband, her collection of sonnets, which had been written circa 1845-1846, when she met and married Robert. Initially reluctant to publish work that was deeply personal, she was persuaded by Robert that the collection comprised the most impressive sonnets since Shakespeare's had been published. To retain a degree of privacy Elizabeth published the collection as if they were translations of work by a Portugese writer. The collection was well received by the reading public and increased Elizabeth's popularity.

Form of How Do I Love Thee, Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Traditional sonnet form - 14 lines written in iambic pentameter (5 feet of two syllables, the second syllable stressed. eg. How do/I love/thee?Let/ me count/ the ways/
  • A lyric poem - written in the first person and addressing personal feelings and emotions
  • How do I love thee? is in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet -
  • The first eight lines of this sonnet form are called the octave and follow the conventional rhyme scheme ABBAABBA
  • The last six lines are called the sestet. The rhyme scheme of the sestet in Petrarchan sonnets varies. In this poem it is CDC-ECE
  • Repitition- the words I love thee are repeated seven times, emphasing the theme and the strength of emotion of the speaker.

Further Reading

Elizabeth Barratt Browning, Sonnets From the Portugese:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnets_from_the_Portuguese Accessed 11th February, 2018.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 GlenR


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