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Clerihews -- Edmund Clerihew Bentley

(Poem #207) Clerihews
The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, 'I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's.'

John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote 'Principles of Political Economy.'

What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

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

Chapman & Hall
Swore not at all.
Mr Chapman's yea was yea,
And Mr Hall's nay was nay.

It was a weakness of Voltaire's
To forget to say his prayers,
And one which to his shame
He never overcame.
-- Edmund Clerihew Bentley
from 'Biography for Beginners', 1905.

Not many poets can lay claim to inventing a poetic form; still fewer have had
forms named after them. Lucky old ECB :-).


PS. Again, having such an odd middle name helps :-)


Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) is remembered mainly for his classic
detective story Trent's Last Case and for the verse form that was named after
him - the clerihew. It was at the age of sixteen, while he was at St. Paul's
School in London, that Bentley first started writing clerihews, as a diversion
from school work. G. K. Chesterton, Bentley's life-long friend, was at St.
Paul's at the same time, and he too wrote clerihews.

Here is one of Bentley's original clerihews from this period:
    Sir Humphrey Davy
    Abominated gravy.
    He lived in the odium
    Of having discovered sodium.

Bentley's first collection of verse in this vein was published in 1905 as
Biography For Beginners. Further collections appeared in 1929 and in 1939. It
was soon after publication of the first volume that the name 'clerihew' became
applied to this particular form of light verse. What exactly is a clerihew?
Frances Stillman in The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary defines it as 'a
humorous pseudo-biographical quatrain, rhymed as two couplets, with line of
uneven length more or less in the rhythm of prose'. Add to this, that the name
of the subject usually ends the first or, less often, the second line, and that
the humour of the clerihew is whimsical rather than satiric, and there you have
a complete definition.


51 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

And, of course, Bentley himself was not left unclerihewed:

Mr. Bentley
Will someone write a Clerihew
When they bury you?


Albert Melcher said...

Do you have the whole clerihew that Bentley wrote about Sir John
Vanbrugh, the English architect,?
I think that the last two lines are something like this:
"Lay heavy on him, Earth, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee".

Ablert G. Melcher
Demver Colorado

ianflanagan said...

Just found your site. I love clerihews - the form is addictive and much
copied, but Bentley and Chesterton remain the masters. I have one of my
own to offer, about the man himself:

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Poked fun, gently,
But could be terse
In his verse.

Anonymous said...

Abel Evans wrote this epitaph for Vanbrugh:

Under this stone, reader, survey
Dead Sir John Vanbrugh's house of clay.
Lie heavy on him, Earth! For he
Laid many heavy loads on thee!

فيس بوك said...

i really like this part What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

Lord Frazer said...

Albert Camus
Was smarter than yus
I arrived at this vus
By comparing the twus

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Mark at Verse said...

There is a selection of clerihews over at

Good to keep this form of verse alive and kicking. I love them.

bm pharmacy said...

From 1936 until 1949 Bentley was president of the Detection Club and contributed to both of their radio serials broadcast in 1930 and 1931 and published in 1983 as The Scoop and Behind The Screen. He died at the age of 80 in 1956. His son Nicolas Bentley was a famous illustrator.

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Anonymous said...

E.C. Bentley
Earned fame by writing Trent-ly.
Not, let me tell you,
For the no-talent clerihew.

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