Friday, April 19, 2013

National Poetry Month: The Clerihew

The Yellin Center Blog continues our celebration of National Poetry Month with a profile of the poetic form called the clerihew.

The history of the clerihew is almost as much fun as the poems themselves. When he was sixteen years old, Edmund Clerihew Bentley was sitting in science class at St. Paul’s School in London when a funny poem about English chemist Humphry Davy popped into his head. He wrote it down and shared it with classmates, and the form was such a hit that he and his friends wrote more and more of the four-line poems – enough to fill a notebook! Bentley went on to publish three books filled with his own poems, which came to be known as clerihews.

The clerihew follows several simple guidelines:

  • it is traditionally about a person
  • it is four lines long 
  • the first line must end with the name of the person the poem is about 
  • the first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other
  • it is funny! 

Here is an example of one of Bentley’s early clerihews:

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

Of course, the great thing about being an artist is that sometimes you get to break the rules. Here’s another example by Bentley, which is not about a person but meets the other requirements:

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

Clerihews can be great fun to write with children. Try assigning a group of kids the same person and letting them compare their work, or let them choose whomever they want. Wouldn’t it be fun to leave the person’s name out of the poem and play a guessing game? The sky’s the limit with this light, enjoyable poetic form! To get your poetic juices flowing, here’s one we wrote in celebration of spring:

Will Punxsutawney Phil 
See his shadow stretch over the hill? 
He’s a pretty famous rodent dude 
Who heralds spring with attitude. 

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