year 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the launching of the clerihew
into the literary landscape. Like a comic comet it appeared in 1905 in a
publication named Biography for Beginners, by “E. Clerihew”, with
illustrations by G.K.C.
matter how long in the tooth!)
know is, “E. Clerihew” is Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875 – 1956) the
inventor of the form. G.K.C. is short for Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874
– 1936). He was Bentley’s contemporary, collaborator, best friend and no
mean poet himself. He described the clerihew as “the severe and stately
form of free verse . . .”, and wrote a clerihew or two as well,
twenty-two little gems, in fact, which can be found in G.K.
Chesterton Collected Nonsense and Light Verse, selected and arranged
by Marie Smith and published in 1987.
2004 Bikwil’s Harlish Goop introduced his readers to the
clerihew and its inventor and treated us to a dozen fine examples of it,
seven by Bentley, three by W.H. Auden and one each by Louis Untermeyer
and J.A. Lindon. He also invited readers “to attempt an original
clerihew or two”.
to Harlish’s encouraging words in my “pink shell-like”, I’ve been
affected ever since with Clerihew Mania. Oh, what a feeling! The urge to
write them is great, as is the challenge, for, as Harlish said, “it’s
not as easy as it seems”. However, I’m fast becoming a clerihewmaniac
and in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the form and its inventor
I’ve concocted the following:
|Detective novelist E.C. Bentley
when asked “Who dunnit?” gently
said, “Find the clue
in the form of my clerihew.”
“Your clerihew? Please
“Two rhyming couplets make a quatrain
rather wayward in metre and rhyme,
which is hardly a crime.
“Without plots or traps
its subject is just about chaps
and some lasses, too:
It’s a veritable comic Who’s Who!
“Let it be known
its name is my own,
and Mother, too,
before marriage, was a Clerihew.
“Many writers try their hardest at one.
My best friend Chesterton,
my son, Nicolas, too
have penned quite a few.
“‘The humour of the form lies’,
says Britannica, in cries
of breathtaking advocacy,
‘in its purposefully flat-footed inadequacy’.”
Whatever his intention
Edmund Clerihew Bentley’s invention
gains his and its name
a place in the hall of literary fame.
with words about a word
and form so delightfully absurd!
long may you
live and thrive
to keep fun and laughter alive.