A site dedicated to G.K. Chesterton, his friends, and the writers he influenced: Belloc, Baring, Lewis, Tolkien, Dawson, Barfield, Knox, Muggeridge, and others.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Sir Humphrey Davy Abominated gravy. He lived in the odium Of having discovered sodium.
This simple silly verse is commonly considered the first clerihew, a poetic form named for its creator, Edmund Clerihew Bentley. He was a school friend of GKC, who also wrote some clerihews, and provided illustrations for some of Bentley’s (like the one above.) Bentley allegedly came up with the idea for the biographical poems while bored at school. Whatever the case, he later published a book of them (Biography for Beginners) with illustrations by Chesterton.
The form of the poem is simple:
They are four lines long. The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other. The first line names a person, and the second line ends with something that rhymes with the name of the person. (In some cases, the person’s name comes at the end of the second line, in which case the first line rhymes with the name.) The lines can vary in length, they just have to rhyme. A clerihew should be funny.
That’s about it.
Oh, and of course, even Bentley broke the person rule occasionally. Here’s an example (with another Chesterton illustration.)
The art of Biography Is different from Geography. Geography is about maps, But Biography is about chaps.
The clerihew is beloved by Chestertonians. There is a regular column about them in Gilbert magazine, and the annual Chesterton Conference includes a clerihew contest.
As noted earlier, Chesterton’s connection with clerihew’s goes beyond simply illustrating them for Bentely: He wrote some himself.
Three that are attributed to GKC are:
The novels of Jane Austen Are the ones to get lost in. I wonder if Labby Has read Northanger Abbey
(Labby was an English journalist.)
Whenever William Cobbett Saw a hen-roost, he would rob it. He posed as a British Farmer, But knew nothing about Karma.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan Is now a buried one. He was not a Goth, much less a Vandal, As he proved by writing The School for Scandal.
Bentley is the most famous of the clerihew writers. W.H Auden also published a book of them (Academic Graffiti).
Henry Adams Was mortally afraid of Madams: In a disorderly house He sat quiet as a mouse.
Oscar Wilde Was greatly beguiled, When into the Café Royal walked Bosie Wearing a tea-cosy.
More recently, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Henry Taylor published a collection of Clerihews called Brief Candles, 101 Clerihews. Here’s two of his:
Thomas Warton never met Dolly Parton. It made him quite surly to have been born too early
Alexander Graham Bell has shuffled off this mobile cell. He’s not talking any more But he has a lot to answer for.
But getting back to the Bentley, here’s a few more:
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 Economy.'
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.
There’s even a Mystery Clerihew site - http://www.smart.net/~tak/clerihew.html - (appropriate, because Bentley’s greatest fame came from his mystery book, Trent’s Last Case) where I came across the following:
Father Brown Gained wide renown. Not for prayerbooks or hyminals, But for collaring criminals.
And here’s a final Bentley, with a GKC illustration:
What I like about Clive Is that he is no longer alive. There is a great deal to be said For being dead.