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Contrasting "To My Valentine" by Ogden Nash and an Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnet

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

What's the best kind of Valentine poem?

What's the best kind of Valentine poem?

"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

Tone of "To My Valentine"

The title of a poem usually provides a clue to the content and so the reader expects 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.

Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash

The Structure of "To My Valentine"

  • Five stanzas, where each stanza has four lines.
  • There is no pattern to the syllables in the lines—the lines are of a dissimilar length and irregular meter, varying from 6–12 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.

"How Do I Love Thee" (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.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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, e.g. How do/I love/thee?Let/ me count/ the ways).
  • A lyric poem: written in the first person and addressing personal feelings and emotions.
  • It's 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.
  • Repetition: the words I love thee are repeated seven times, emphasizing the theme and the strength of emotion of the speaker.

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.

© 2018 Glen Rix