About the poet: Frediric Ogden Nash was born in Rye, New York, on 19th August 1902. He came from a distinguished family, and in fact, the city of Nashville in Tennessee was named in honour of one of his forbearers. He worked for a short time on Wall Street, and then as a schoolteacher, before becoming a copywriter. Nash’s first poems began to be published in the New Yorker around 1930. His first collection of poems entitled Hard Lines was published in 1931. Nash also worked briefly for the New Yorker in 1932, before deciding to devote himself full time to his verse. In the 1950s, Nash focused on writing poems for children. His poetry collections from that time include The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus (1957) and Girls are Silly (1962). He is perhaps best remembered for these and for his non-sense poetry. Nash died on 19th May 1971.
Setting of the poem: The poem is set entirely in the poet’s imagination, and has no basis in reality at all. The poet imagines a little girl called Belinda and her pets – a cat, a dog, a mouse and a dragon – of whom the dragon is the most cowardly. However, when the situation demands it, and a pirate is on the prowl, the dragon shows his true nature and saves all the others from harm.
The Tale of Custard the Dragon Summary by Ogden Nash
The poem consists of 14 stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of 4 lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of 56 lines in total.
Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
In this stanza, we are introduced to Belinda who lives with her pets in a white house. These pets are a black kitten, a gray mouse, a yellow dog and a dragon. They all use a red wagon when they want to go out somewhere.
Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.
In this stanza, we are told that the kitten being black is known as Ink, the mouse being tiny as Blink, the dog being yellow as Mustard, and the dragon being cowardly as Custard.
Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.
In this stanza, we are told that Custard was a full-grown dragon and could easily defend himself against any danger, for he had sharp teeth, spikes on his back, scales beneath his belly and dagger-like toes. He could also breathe fire.
Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.
In this stanza, we are told that Belinda, Ink, Blink and Mustard were all brave, even though they were much smaller in size than Custard, but that Custard was so cowardly that he preferred to be caged if that would keep him safe.
Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.
In this stanza, we are told that Belinda and the others all made fun of Custard for being so afraid all the time. Belinda tickled him and Ink, Blink and Mustard ironically compared him with the brave knight called Percival, who had been in the service of King Arthur to show him how unlike Percival he really was.
Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.
In this stanza, we are told that whenever Custard wanted to be put in a cage, Belinda and Blink giggled to their heart’s content, and Ink and Mustard asked him how old he was that he was scared of every little thing.
Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.
In this stanza, the poet describes a particular incident when Belinda and her pets all heard an unpleasant sound. Mustard, sensing trouble, started growling. Ink and Belinda cried out in horror, and finally they saw that a pirate was climbing into their house through a window.
Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.
In this stanza, we are told that the pirate had guns in both hands and a knife between his teeth. He also had a beard and a wooden leg. All in all, his appearance was quite sinister.
Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.
In this stanza, we see that Belinda started to cry for help, Mustard ran away, Ink hid in the basement or attic, and Blink went into his mousehole.
But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.
In this stanza, we are told that Custard surprised everyone with his actions. He jumped up and started snorting in indignation and anger. In fact, it sounded like an engine revving. Then Custard beat his tail against the floor, and that sounded like the metal chains in a dungeon being banged against one another. Finally, he charged towards the pirate in a same way that a bird charges at a worm that it will eat.
The pirate gaped at Belinda’s dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn’t hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.
In this stanza, we are shown the pirate’s reaction to Custard. He knew that he had no chance of winning against a dragon, so he just stared at Custard and took a drink of alcohol from his flagon, preparing to be eaten alive. He feebly fired two shots at Custard from his pistol, but his aim was off. And finally, Custard ate him up in one bite.
Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.
In this stanza, we are told that Belinda gave Custard a hug and Mustard licked him. So both man and dog expressed approval in their own way. Nobody spared a thought for the pirate who had been eaten. Instead, Ink and Blink started dancing in a happy mood.
Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
In this stanza, we are told that everything has gone back to normal again. Belinda is living once again in peace with her pets in her white house.
Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.
In this stanza, we are told that Belinda, Ink, Blink and Mustard are still brave despite knowing that the pirate could have easily killed them all. On the other hand, Custard is still a coward and still longs for a safe cage. Read more: The Tale of Custard the Dragon Analysis by Ogden Nash
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