A clerihew (/ˈklɛrɪhjuː/) is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light, or revealing something unknown or spurious about them. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced. The line length and metre are irregular. Bentley invented the clerihew in school and then popularized it in books. One of his best known is this (1905):

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's."[1]


A clerihew has the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it mostly pokes fun at famous people
  • It has four lines of irregular length and metre for comic effect
  • The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme, including the use of phrases in Latin, French and other non-English languages[2]
  • The first line contains, and may consist solely of, the subject's name. According to a letter in The Spectator in the 1960s, Bentley said that a true clerihew has to have the name "at the end of the first line", as the whole point was the skill in rhyming awkward names.[3]

Clerihews are not satirical or abusive, but they target famous individuals and reposition them in an absurd, anachronistic or commonplace setting, often giving them an over-simplified and slightly garbled description (not unlike the schoolboy style of 1066 and All That).


The form was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley. When he was a 16-year-old pupil at St Paul's School in London, the lines of his first clerihew, about Humphry Davy, came into his head during a science class.[4] Together with his schoolfriends, he filled a notebook with examples.[5] The first use of the word in print was in 1928.[6] Bentley published three volumes of his own clerihews: Biography for Beginners (1905), published as "edited by E. Clerihew";[4] More Biography (1929); and Baseless Biography (1939), a compilation of clerihews originally published in Punch illustrated by the author's son Nicolas Bentley.

G. K. Chesterton, a friend of Bentley, was also a practitioner of the clerihew and one of the sources of its popularity. Chesterton provided verses and illustrations for the original schoolboy notebook and illustrated Biography for Beginners.[4] Other serious authors also produced clerihews, including W. H. Auden,[7] and it remains a popular humorous form among other writers and the general public. Among contemporary writers, the satirist Craig Brown has made considerable use of the clerihew in his columns for The Daily Telegraph.

There has been newfound popularity of the form on Twitter.


Bentley's first clerihew, published in 1905, was written about Sir Humphry Davy:

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.[5]

The original poem had the second line "Was not fond of gravy";[5] but the published version has "Abominated gravy".

Other clerihews by Bentley include:

George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.[8]


John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote Principles of Political Economy.[9]

W. H. Auden's Academic Graffiti (1971) includes:

Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Was completely staggered
When his bride-to-be
Announced, "I am She!"

Satirical magazine Private Eye noted Auden's work and responded:

W. H. Auden
Suffers from acute boredom
But for his readers he's got some merry news
He's written a collection of rather bad clerihews

A second stanza aimed a jibe at Auden's publisher, Faber and Faber.

Alan Turing, one of the founders of computing, was the subject of a clerihew written by the pupils of his alma mater, Sherborne School in England:

Must have been alluring
To get made a don
So early on.[10]

A clerihew appreciated by chemists is cited in Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes, and regards the inventor of the thermos bottle (or Dewar flask):

Sir James Dewar
Is a better man than you are
None of you asses
Can liquefy gases.

Dark Sun also features a clerihew about the German-British physicist and Soviet nuclear spy Klaus Fuchs:

Like an ascetic

In 1983, Games magazine ran a contest titled "Do You Clerihew?" The winning entry was:

Did Descartes
With the thought
"Therefore I'm not"?

Other uses of the form

The clerihew form has also occasionally been used for non-biographical verses. Bentley opened his 1905 Biography for Beginners with an example, entitled "Introductory Remarks", on the theme of biography itself:

The Art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about Maps,
But Biography is about Chaps.

The third edition of the same work, published in 1925, included a "Preface to the New Edition" in 11 stanzas, each in clerihew form. One stanza ran:

On biographic style
(Formerly so vile)
The book has had an effect
Greater than I could reasonably expect.

See also


  1. ^ Bentley, E. Clerihew (1905). Biography for Beginners. ISBN 978-1-4437-5315-9.
  2. ^ What is a Clerihew?
  3. ^ Cole, William (1965). "Introduction". The Fireside Book of Humorous Poetry. Hamish Hamilton. p. xiv. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Gale, Steven H. (1996). Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Taylor & Francis. p. 139. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5.
  5. ^ a b c Bentley, E. Clerihew (1982). The First Clerihews. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-212980-5.
  6. ^ Oxford English Dictionary.
  7. ^ O'Neill, Michael (2007). The All-sustaining Air: Romantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry Since 1900. Oxford University Press. p. 94. ISBN 0-19-929928-5.
  8. ^ Freeman, Morton S. (ed.) (1997). A New Dictionary of Eponyms. Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-19-509354-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Biography for Beginners. Swainson, Bill (ed.) (2000). Encarta Book of Quotations. Macmillan. pp. 642–43. ISBN 0-312-23000-1.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Hodges, Andrew (1983). Alan Turing: The Enigma. Touchstone. p. 94. ISBN 0-671-52809-2.
  11. ^ Rhodes, Richard, (1995). Dark Sun : The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 57, 488. ISBN 068480400X.

Further reading

  • Teague, Frances (1993). "Clerihew". Preminger, Alex; Brogan, T. V. F. (ed.), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton University Press. pp. 219–220.

External links

1875 in poetry

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).

1891 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1891.

1891 in poetry

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).

1905 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1905.

1905 in poetry

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).

1905 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1905 in the United Kingdom.

1928 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1928.

1928 in poetry

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature (for instance, Irish or France).

1956 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1956.

Biggar RFC

Biggar RFC is a rugby union club based in Biggar, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Founded in 1975, the team plays its home games at Hartree Mill and currently competes in Scottish National League Division Two, the third tier of Scottish club rugby.

The club was formed in 1975 by five men who had been heavily involved in rugby clubs in their younger days and thought that the area might sustain a new social rugby club. These were Dr. Mike Bewsher (Melrose), Richard Carr (Harlequins), Les Clerihew (Stewarts College), Archie Stott (Hawick Trades) and Tom Wight (Melrose).

Twenty-eight years later, at the end of season 2003–04, the club found itself promoted to the top division in Scotland for season 2004–05. In the 2005–06 season, the club finished 5th in the Scottish Premiership. In their second season, they slipped to relegation. In 2012–13 season the club finished 8th in the National League, the second tier of club rugby, after a late season run of good results.

The club happened to be in the Edinburgh District set up but is not in Edinburgh. On the fringes of the Scottish Borders, it is in South Lanarkshire.

Biggar built its own clubhouse premises in 1989 (extended in 2012) and now owns some 30 acres (120,000 m2) of ground. The club recently developed its playing facilities and now has 5 pitches, 4 of which are floodlit. The Club's facilities are used by Biggar Football Club and Biggar Athletics club (a satellite of Law Athletics Club)

Biggar's most notable player is Scott Lawson. The hooker played for Biggar before going on to gain 46 Scotland caps at full international level.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley

E. C. Bentley (full name Edmund Clerihew Bentley; 10 July 1875 – 30 March 1956) was a popular English novelist and humorist, and inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics.

Edwin Palmer

Edwin James Palmer was the Bishop of Bombay from 1908 until 1929. He was born in 1869 into a noted family and educated at Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford. Ordained in 1896 he was elected a Fellow of his old college and was Tutor and Chaplain there until he ascended to the Episcopate where (according to his Times obituary) he was “moderate in opinion and accommodating in all things except where basic beliefs and principles were involved”. A prolific author, in retirement he continued to serve the church until his death on 28 March 1954 and his extensive papers are preserved for posterity within the Lambeth Palace Library.Palmer was the subject of a clerihew which acquired some currency at Oxford:

"J. A. SmithSaid Christianity was a myth;

When he grew calmer

They sent for Mr Palmer."

Glossary of poetry terms

This is a glossary of poetry.

John Edmund Bentley

John Edmund Bentley (1847–12 December 1913) was an English sportsman who played in the first international rugby football match in 1871, representing England as a halfback.

Light poetry

Light poetry or light verse is poetry that attempts to be humorous. Light poems are usually brief, can be on a frivolous or serious subject, and often feature word play including puns, adventurous rhyme, and heavy alliteration. Typically, light verse in English is formal verse, although a few free verse poets have excelled at light verse outside the formal verse tradition.

While light poetry is sometimes condemned as doggerel or thought of as poetry composed casually, humor often makes a serious point in a subtle or subversive way. Many of the most renowned "serious" poets, such as Horace, Swift, Pope, and Auden, also excelled at light verse.

Nicolas Bentley

Nicolas Clerihew Bentley (14 June 1907 – 14 August 1978) was a British author and illustrator, best known for his humorous cartoon drawings in books and magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. The son of Edmund Clerihew Bentley (inventor of the clerihew verse form), he was given the name Nicholas, but opted to change the spelling.

Trent's Last Case

Trent's Last Case is a detective novel written by E.C. Bentley and first published in 1913. Its central character reappeared subsequently in the novel Trent's Own Case (1936) and the short-story collection Trent Intervenes (1938).

Trent's Own Case

Trent's Own Case is a 1936 British detective novel written by E.C. Bentley (in collaboration with H. Warner Allen) as a sequel to his best-known novel Trent's Last Case.The artist and amateur criminologist, Philip Trent, investigates the murder of a sadistic philanthropist whose portrait he had painted. But there are many false paths and blind alleys in the case, and it is not until he has crossed to France and back again and searched England for the champagne Felix Poubelle 1884, not before two others have died and an actress has disappeared, that Trent finally emerges triumphant to discover the murderer.In Trent's Last Case, Philip Trent had fallen in love with one of the chief suspects, the victim's beautiful young widow, Mabel. In Trent's Own Case, they are happily married and have a six-year-old son. The reader gets a glimpse of their marriage in Chapter XV.

Herbert Warner Allen was best known as the author of several books on wine, such as the frequently reprinted The Romance of Wine (1932). However, he also wrote detective fiction featuring wine merchant and expert William Clerihew (apparently named in tribute to Edmund Clerihew Bentley): the short story "Tokay of the Comet Year" (1930) and the novel Mr. Clerihew, Wine Merchant (1933). William Clerihew makes a cameo appearance in Chapter XIII of Trent's Own Case, where, in his capacity as wine expert, he provides Trent with information that proves crucial to the solving of the case.

Trent's Own Case was followed by a collection of short stories, Trent Intervenes, published in 1938.

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