July 10: Clerihew Day

Today is the birthday of Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) whose middle name became a form of light verse.

Bentley made a name for himself with a classic work of detective fiction called Trent’s Last Case, but he is best known for the four-line verse form that bears his middle name: the clerihew.

The clerihew is a biographical form that begins with the subject’s name (or at least contains the name in the first line). It is made up of two rhyming couplets (thus the rhyme scheme is AABB). The only other requirement of the form is that it should be light-hearted or humorous.

Bentley’s Biography for Beginners, published in 1905, was his first collection of verse. He followed this up with additional volumes of verse in 1929 and 1939.

Here are a couple of examples of Bentley’s clerihews:

Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall,
He slept in the hall.

 

Geoffrey Chaucer
Could hardly have been coarser,
But this never harmed the sales
Of his Canterbury Tales

Today’s Challenge: Terse Verse
Try writing your own clerihews.  Here are some possible topics:
-Write one about a friend, and use it in a birthday card.
-Write about someone in the news.
-Write an autobiographical clerihew as your epitaph.
-Write one about your favorite fictional character.

Here are a couple of examples:

Samuel Backman
Took on Superman.
It was a long night.
He forgot his Kryptonite.

 

Prince Hamlet was sad
Because his uncle killed his dad.
His father’s ghost appeared to him after dark.
“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark!”

 

Joey McCool
Was a pretty big fool.
One day he fell asleep at school.
And drowned in a pool of his own drool.

Quotation of the Day:  Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. -Benjamin Disraeli

1 – Brandreth, Gyles. The Book of Classic Puzzles and Word Games. London: Chancellor Press, 1985.

2 – Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature (Sixth Edition). New York: Macmillian, 1992.