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The People of Spain Think Cervantes -- Edmund Clerihew Bentley

       
(Poem #1446) The People of Spain Think Cervantes
 The people of Spain think Cervantes
 Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
 An opinion resented most bitterly
 By the people of Italy.
-- Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Bentley's eponymous invention, the clerihew, is one of those simple ideas
that seem so natural in retrospect. Humorous biographies are nothing new, of
course, but the formal structure of the clerihew lends them a certain extra
something, in much the same way that the structure of a limerick predisposes
the reader to expect humour, and thereby enhances that humour.

And the clerihew espouses a particularly irreverent form of humour. To begin
with, the idea of summarising someone's life in four lines already calls for
a certain lack of regard, a willingness to pick out the most salient feature
and satirise that. And then there are the rhymes - Nash may have lent a
certain respectability to the bad rhyme, but the clerihew practically
institutionalises it, to the extent that I feel slightly cheated if there
isn't at least a hint of contrivedness. And the short lines and rhyming
couplets give the poem a breezy, dashed-off feel that reinforces this
irreverence - a perfect contrast to the hundreds of serious (and often
deadly serious) eulogies out there.

martin

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