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A Caution To Everybody
by Ogden Nash
Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.
This Ogden Nash poem is four lines, with an AABB rhyme scheme and no specific meter.
While Nash typically writes humorous poetry, this four line poem is a commentary on the direction of humanity more generally – and the Speaker is delivering a less than positive message.
Lines 1 sets up the comparison with the extinct bird, the auk. The Speaker blames the bird’s extinction on its evolution. It became a flightless bird. The Speaker implies that if the auk had not “forgot” how to fly, it could have avoided the dangers that eventually led to its extinction.
Lines 3 and 4 then discuss human beings. The mirroring structure of the poem “Consider,” between Lines 1 and 3 is called anaphora. This directs the Reader to the comparison. The Speaker says man could also become extinct. Just as the auk lost touch with its roots, and in the process a core mechanism for its perpetuation, he says man “forgot how to walk.” Unlike the auk, this statement of what man “forgot” is symbolic, rather than literal. The Speaker seems to mean that man lost touch with the local things that characterized us as a species (community, morality) and began to concern himself with global things (power, weapons, technology) instead. The Speaker implies that by losing touch with those local things, mankind is now ill-prepared for the global. The end result is that man might destroy himself “before he thinked.”
If man could just remember what he used to know, he might not destroy himself with what he learns.