Ogden Nash is a poet who touched upon great concepts through simple and trivial poems. The poem talks about a dragon named Custard, a particular episode that made everyone question their thoughts and judgements on other beings. The poet has deliberately twisted a few words to bring in the comic element in the poem. The concept also seems simple as it involves a little girl with four pets.
Why do we have pets at home? Some people have dogs and some cats. People's pet preferences vary from rabbits to birds. Different people have pets for different reasons. Some have dogs to have friendly company or cats to have fun with. There are people who consider their pets as their children. Some specially-abled people seek professional help from their pets. The poem revolves around one such person who keeps pets.
Belinda is the central character in the poem, and she lives in a little white house. The little white house gives the readers a sense of warmth and cosiness. It seems like a house with less number of people living in it. Belinda lives in the house with four pets. The first one is a black kitten. Some people prefer white and cute kittens for all the odd reasons. But Belinda has this black one. Kittens can be cute, and they make for good company as they play around. The next pet that Belinda has is a little grey mouse. This seems to be a contradictory scene as cats are mortal enemies of mice. Cats chase them around and eat them up. But this house seems unusual as it is home to both the kitten and the mouse.
The kitten, mouse and dog
Belinda then has a dog, which is a quite common sight in all households. The dog is unusually yellow, which could mean the golden yellow colour. A kitten, a mouse and a dog seem to be a dangerous combo, as they are less friendly towards each other. If this was not enough, Belinda also has a dragon at her house as a pet. They also have a red wagon to move out. The poet uses the made-up words realio trulio to emphasise that it was truly a dragon. The kitten is named Ink, probably taking after black ink. The mouse is called Blink, rhyming with Ink. The dog is named Mustard as he is sharp, and the dragon being a coward, was named Custard. The names of the dog and the dragon seem to align with their nature.
Dragons are supposed to be very dangerous creatures. Throughout history, dragons are always represented as heinous creatures who swallow people and breathe fire. Dragons are mythical creatures that appear only in folklores and stories from ancient mythology. They are not found daily, making it quite unusual for anyone to have them as a pet. Different cultures have different stories about the evolution and presence of dragons. They are four-legged creatures with huge wings, and they can destroy anyone. The myths also state that they are the bravest of all the creatures that existed.
Dragon emitting fire
The poem has quite a contrary opinion and portrayal of a dragon compared to the established ones. But the descriptions given for the dragon remain true to the characteristics and physical attributes of an original one. The poet says that Custard, the dragon, had big sharp teeth. Carnivorous and wild animals who prey on others have fangs for teeth, and they are supposed to be dangerous. The dragon also has spikes on  his body, which are pointed and sharp as they can hurt anyone who brushes by or touches it. The body has scales underneath like that of a fish. The body of the dragon is not a very soft one, and it has been conditioned in such a way that it can withstand harsh conditions. Dragons breathe fire; therefore, the poet compares it to a fireplace that emits fire. When it emits fire, there is also smoke that comes out of its nose. He, therefore, compares its nose with a chimney. He also has sharp dagger-like toes, as they are powerful like a sword.
Belinda is a very brave girl, and the poet compares her bravery to the fact that she is as strong as a barrel full of bears. A bear is a powerful animal and can fight fiercely. Its weight alone can crush people. Belinda is being compared to not just one bear but a barrel full of them. It is a figure of speech as bears cannot be contained in barrels. Lions are supreme creatures, and they prey on most other small animals. Generally, a lion is mightier than a cat or a mouse. But in this case, Ink and Blink can chase such a powerful lion down the stairs, showing their bravery. Mustard, the dog, is compared to a tiger in a rage, as he is also brave. But the dragon, who is supposedly the mightiest of them, and has a physique for that, is the meekest of them all. When everyone is excited about fighting and showing their power, Custard wants to stay inside a safe and comfortable cage. Dragons like to be out in the open, but in the poem, it just yearns for a cage to rest.
Custard, the dragon, was considered cowardly as he did not fit into the usual definitions and attributes given to a dragon. He did not want to destroy other people, nor did he want to exhibit his power to other people. We have fixed certain standards for what bravery is in society. When people or other beings do not stick to those particular standards, we tend to tease them. For example, when we see a man being vulnerable or letting out his emotions, we tend to tease him by asking about his manliness. This is because we have fixed certain stereotypes in our minds, and we cannot process that people can choose to behave or react in whatever way they want to. No rule that states how all creatures are supposed to behave. Just because dragons are generally brave and have a tough outer appearance, Custard need not necessarily be the same. He can be a scared dragon who wants to stay in his comfort zone.
Belinda loves teasing her pet dragon as he is unlike any dragon. It is usually tough when people we love make fun of us. But Belinda did not seem to care about it as she kept tickling him. Usually, no person dares to go near a dragon, let alone tickle it. But Custard, the simple and scared dragon he was, allows himself to be tickled mercilessly.
Along with Belinda, the other pets also join to make sure to tease him for being weak. They call him Percival. Percival was a knight in King Arthur’s court. He was very unattractive, so people assumed that he was fit for nothing. But the legend states that he was the one who later secured the holy grail, which is a cup that possessed magical abilities like retaining one’s youth and curing sickness. Custard is also judged based on his present characteristics, but Belinda and her pets do not seem to recognise that he can do a few other things.
Holy grail taken by Percival
They all sat there in the red wagon, making fun of Custard for being a coward and not being fierce like other dragons. According to them, he was a truly coward dragon. Belinda found it so amusing that she nearly shook the house with laughter. Blink the mouse laughed, and it sounded like the word week as his giggles left his mouth. Ink and Mustard liked to tease him more that they rudely asked him for his age, meaning if he was a little one. Only little kids are scared to do things, and they need to be in the comfort of their parents. Likewise, they ask him if he was a child to ask for a soft cage.
There is a saying, 'What goes around, comes around.' People do not think of the consequences of making fun of or teasing other people. To some extent, it can hurt them. Every creature born in this world has one flaw or the other, as no one is perfect. We may tease someone for being a coward, but there might come a time when we need their help. We may tease someone for being poor in English, but they can be the best cricketers or musicians. Also, a person who is a coward may not be the same throughout life. There comes a point in all our lives when we will have to move out of our comfort zone and act bravely.
Custard, the dragon, also had a similar situation. When Belinda and her other pets were laughing and making fun of Custard, they did not pay attention to what was happening around them. This is another negative side of teasing, as we always tend to focus on finding other people's flaws but do not pay attention to our own life or external circumstances. Similarly, Belinda and her pets did not notice someone entering the house. They heard a sound all of a sudden. It was not a pleasant sound but a nasty noise. Dogs tend to sense danger and negative vibes earlier, and therefore Mustard growls deeply. This made everyone look up, seeing a pirate climbing from the window. Ink being a cat, cried meowch and Belinda was scared as she cried out 'ooh'.
A pirate
Pirates are dangerous people as they loot and harm people. They are mostly seen in the sea. Belinda and her pets are scared that they could be harmed. The pirate's descriptions make it even scarier. He has a pistol in his left hand and his right hand. He could shoot at any of them to get their valuables. He held a long slashing sword in between his teeth since his hands were occupied. He had a black beard, and he had a wooden leg. This seems to be a common description of a pirate as most of them have a patch on one eye and a wooden leg, as they were part of a lot of commotions in the sea. Anyone who saw the pirate could see that he was up to no good.
We tend to understand who our true friends are only in difficult times. We can claim to have a lot of friends, but that does not mean that we can expect them to be there for us all the time. People stay with us and make lengthy promises, but at the first sign of a time of crisis, they run away and focus only on themselves. It is not wrong to focus on oneself and be a little selfish, but it is different when one makes lengthy claims and does not keep up with them. When someone is in danger, one's first instinct is to seek help. But we must also ensure that we care for our loved ones.
People keep pets for fun and also to help them in some way. Dogs are supposed to guard and protect their master, but Mustard, the dog, was the first one to run away from the scene as soon as he saw the pirate climbing down the window. Belinda cries for help as she is sure that the pirate will attack her with all the weapons in hand. She grew pale out of fear. Mustard fled from the scene, letting out a terrified yelp as he was scared. Cats have a quick pace when it comes to running, and therefore Ink took off to the bottom of the household and hid away. Blink being a mouse, did not have to look for a hideout, as he could easily scuttle into any hole, and no one could reach into it. This shows that people can boast about their strength and loyalty all they want, but that does not mean they might keep up with them.
People who are criticised for being good for nothing might actually turn up to be of great help when there is a crisis. Similarly, Custard flares up when he sees the pirate. He rises to the situation. He jumped up and snorted smoke from his nostrils like an engine. He is so huge that when he stands up, his tail moves and clashes against things as if someone is clashing irons in underground passages. With a lot of noise being produced, he swiftly eyed the pirate as a robin bird would look at its worm food. The pirate was not expecting such a dragon, and he gaped in shock. He drinks up some alcohol which he had in his pocket, as he was scared. He also fired two bullets from his guns in both hands. But Custard having the thick skin he had, did not get hit. Rather, Custard gobbled the pirate fully, killing him.
The dragon attacked the pirate
The last few stanzas of the poem remind us that one must always have faithful friends around us. It is very easy for everyone to make claims that they would be brave, but it is difficult to act on it. It also speaks about how the ones we least expect to act on will be the ones rescuing us in the long run. Custard, the dragon, was teased for not being brave, but he was the one who acted immediately and saved Belinda's life by fighting the pirate, not even caring about his own life. Belinda finally realises her mistake and embraces Custard. The other pets are also relieved that they are rescued from the pirate.
Mustard being a dog shows that he is thankful for being saved by licking Custard. Everyone was so happy about being saved that no one mourned or cared about the pirate's death. It is only when good people lose their lives that they are remembered for their good deeds and mourned. If the pirate were alive, then that would mean nobody else would. Ink and Blink were so happy that they went round and round in merry, around Custard, who had just gobbled the pirate. This shows that they were the ones who were originally scared, and now that they know that the pirate is no more, they make merry. It is easy to give excuses for one's act again. Mustard now compensates for running away by saying that if it were him, he would have been twice as brave as Custard. It is a very sad thing to belittle someone's efforts, let alone when that person was trying to save our life. But Mustard is embarrassed that he was saved by Custard, who he had teased mercilessly. He covers it up, saying he had to run because he was confused.
They all scurry up on seeing the pirate
Ink and Blink also follow Mustard's words and go one step further to say they would have been three times braver. But as the saying goes, 'Empty vessels make noise', Custard does not defend or argue against all these claims. He very quietly admits that it is true that everyone is braver than him. This shows that one need not speak up and argue everywhere. Things return to normal as Belinda lives in the same house with her pets and wagon. The last stanza is a repetition, but when one reads it after the events unfolding, it is evident that it is said in a sarcastic tone.