Friday, September 08, 2006


My Fellow Man I Do Not Care For

Ogden Nash, À Bas Ben Adhem:
My fellow man I do not care for.
I often ask me, What’s he there for?
The only answer I can find
Is, Reproduction of his kind.
If I’m supposed to swallow that,
Winnetka is my habitat.
Isn't it time to carve Hic Jacet
Above that Reproduction racket?

To make the matter more succint:
Suppose my fellow man extinct.
Why, who would not approve the plan
Save possibly my fellow man?
Yet with a politician’s voice
He names himself as Nature’s choice.

The finest of the human race
Are bad in figure, worse in face.
Yet just because they have two legs
And come from storks instead of eggs
They count the spacious firmament
As something to be charged and sent.

Though man created cross-town traffic,
The Daily Mirror, News and Graphic,
The pastoral fight and fighting pastor,
And Queen Marie and Lady Astor,
He hails himself with drum and fife
And bullies lower forms of life.

Not that I think much depends
On how we treat our feathered friends,
Or hold the wrinkled elephant
A nobler creature than my aunt.
It’s simply that I'm sure I can
Get on without my fellow man.
"À Bas Ben Adhem," the title of Nash's cynical poem, means "Down with Ben Adhem," and is a pun on "Abou Ben Adhem," the title of a saccharine poem by Leigh Hunt. Where Nash said, "My fellow man I do not care for," Abou Ben Adhem said, "Write me as one that loves his fellow men." Here is Leigh Hunt's poem:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
  Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
  ‘What writest thou?’—The vision rais’d its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answer’d, ‘The names of those who love the Lord.’
  ‘And is mine one?’ said Abou. ‘Nay, not so,’
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, ‘I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.’
  The angel wrote, and vanish’d. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And show’d the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
In the same spirit as Nash's poem is Walter A. Raleigh, Wishes of an Elderly Man Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914:
I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;
And when I’m introduced to one,
I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!

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