Saturday, July 15, 2017

Prompt #285 – A Clerihew or Two

This week’s prompt is purely for enjoyment and deals with a form of poetry that’s rooted in rhymed doggerel formed by two whimsical couplets. The purpose of the clerihew is to create a brief, sometimes satiric, biographical note.

Far from being in the same category as other “form” poems (such as sonnets and sestinas), the clerihew was invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) who was so bored in his high school chemistry class that he jotted down a silly rhyme about Sir Humphrey Davy (the Cornish chemist and inventor who discovered, among other things, sodium). Clerihews developed from this first poem and many have continued to be about famous people (or at least people, characters from literature, pets, and places their authors know). The name of the subject is always the first line. The rest of the poem is supposed to reveal something funny, absurd, or satirical about the subject.  Short and pithy, the best clerihews combine a mix of clownish and urbane elements.

The line length and meter in these poems is usually irregular, the rhymes are often humorously forced, and the rhyme scheme is AABB. Clerihews have only a few simple rules:

1. They are four lines long.
2. The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.
3. The first line names a person.
4. A clerihew is a micro-biography and the intent is humor.

Clerihews can be great fun when you need to vent about someone; they can make great little silly gifts for friends and family members on special occasions (I once used clerihews as place cards for a dinner party); and they’re just plain fun to “noodle” around with.
Guidelines & Tips:

1. Begin by choosing someone to be the subject (and first line) of your clerihew (this first line may be simpley the poeson's name or may be a bit longer). Then, write a second line that end rhymes with the first. Next, write a third line in which you reveal something about the subject (personality, occupation, anything—just keep it light. Finally, write a fourth (and last) line that rhymes with the third line. (Consider sports stars, movie stars, recording stars, politicians, famous poets and other authors, family members, or anyone else you know or know about.)

2. Remember that rhyme is essential and be sure to follow the a, a, b, b rhyme scheme (the first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other).

3. Tell something about the person in your clerihew. Just one biographical detail is enough.

4. Focus on humor but try for a bit of cleverness.

5. Punctuate as you would in normal sentences. Bentley started each line with a capital (once a favored technique in writing poetry), but you don’t have to.

6. Have some fun writing a clerihew or two!

Examples by Edmund Clerihew Bentley:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

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

Other Examples:

David Beckham
knew how to wreck ’em.
When it came to soccer,
he was a rocker.

My cousin Nancy
is better than fancy—
she’s elegant and cool
and nobody’s fool!

The puppy Zoey
is sweet and showy;
she may be a Morkie,
but she’s looks all Yorkie!

The poet Joe Weil
will make you smile
with stories and more—
he's a raconteur!


  1. I just made up a bunch of these for family and friends! So easy and so much fun! A very nice 'poetry oasis' during these long hot summer days.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jamie! I love your term "poetry oasis."

  2. One thing to mention (you probably did), a clerihew should be purposefully off scansion and run some of the meter over or under (like singing off key on purpose). I've written a few and even used the metrical irregularity in some of my more serious poems.

    1. An excellent point regarding metrical irregularity, Joe! Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. What fun! On a hot and humid day, my children have been enjoying writing clerihews (inside with the A.C. on full blast). Good family fun, for which my thanks.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Carole! It's great to know that you and your children are enjoying clerihew writing.

  4. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)July 24, 2017 at 10:00 AM

    What fun! I just found this post and enjoy it very much!