the Private Dining Room

January 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

Miss Rafferty wore taffeta,
Miss Cavendish wore lavender.
We ate pickerel and mackerel
And other lavish provender.
Miss Cavendish was Lalage,
Miss Rafferty was Barbara.
We gobbled pickled mackerel
And broke the candelabara,
Miss Cavendish in lavender,
In taffeta, Miss Rafferty,
The girls in taffeta lavender,
And we, of course, in mufti.

Miss Rafferty wore taffeta,
The taffeta was lavender,
Was lavend, lavender, lavenderest,
As the wine improved the provender.
Miss Cavendish wore lavender,
The lavender was taffeta.
We boggled mackled pickerel,
And bumpers did we quaffeta.
And Lalage wore lavender,
And lavender wore Barbara,
Rafferta taffeta Cavender lavender
Barbara abracadabra.

Miss Rafferty in taffeta
Grew definitely raffisher.
Miss Cavendish in lavender
Grew less and less stand-offisher.
With Lalage and Barbara
We grew a little pickereled,
We ordered Mumm and Roederer
Because the bubbles tickereled.
But lavender and taffeta
Were gone when we were soberer.
I haven’t thought for thirty years
Of Lalage and Barbara.

– Ogden Nash

Nash belongs to none of the 20th century’s poetic movements though he borrowed from all of them. He published his first collection during the height of High Modernism and his last in the early 70s with the Language poets and Second New York School bubbling around him. “The Private Dining Room” pops and fizzes on the level of sound poetry, both a sendup to the form and to 1950s propriety and etiquette guides.

A sound poem like Hugo Ball’s “Gadgi beri bimba” introduces new sounds sparingly; it uses alliteration to tie the lines together and to create momentum. By recycling phonemes, Nash both replicates the dizziness of a plastered partier and captures the party’s inertia. As the dinner guests get more and more drunk, words transmogrify into mutant strains of themselves; “pickerel” becomes “pickled” becomes “pickereled” or “lavend” becomes “lavender” becomes “lavenderest” with the words gaining freak morphemes as they progress through the poem. Then, when inebriation subsides and the guests leave, we’re left with the plain last lines and the narrator wondering if the debauchery ever happened at all.

Here is Ogden Nash reciting the poem. Ignore the awful background music.

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