July 10: Clerihew Day

Cody Walker
July 10, 2010
Comments 5

It’s possible — OK, likely — that my life as an even semi-serious poet was ruined by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. Because once I started writing clerihews, once I started concocting my own fanciful biographies in the Bentley-approved AABB fashion, I couldn’t see much reason to write anything else. Sometimes I have the not-quite-doctoral-committee-approved thought that all poems, all short stories, all plays, all everything, would be better if reduced to a clerihew. (Or at the very least, made shorter. From X. J. Kennedy’s “Famous Poems Abbreviated”: “Once upon a midnight dreary, / Blue and lonesome, missed my dearie. / Would I find her? Any hope? / Quoth the raven six times, ‘Nope.'”) Auden wrote tremendous clerihews, as did Dorothy Parker and George Starbuck. But today is Bentley’s birthday — he’s 135 — and what’s more, it’s Clerihew Day (no joke: it’s wedged between National Sugar Cookie Day and National Cheer Up the Lonely Day). So let’s turn to the original specimens, written in a form that Willard Espy described as “the ideal put-down: gentle, compassionate, unanswerable.”

(And many thanks to the patient souls at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library, one of whom helped me photograph the G. K. Chesterton illustrations that appear in Bentley’s 1905 collection, Biography for Beginners.)

Bentley cover best smaller



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

Bentley introductory remarks smaller



Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium.

Bentley Davy smaller



The Abbe Liszt
Hit the piano with his fist.
That was the way
He used to play.

Bently Liszt smaller



What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

Bentley Lord Clive smaller



The younger Van Eyck
Was christened Jan, and not Mike.
The thought of this curious mistake
Often kept him awake.

Bentley Van Eyck smaller


Cheers, then. Now go write a clerihew — or seven, or ninety, or a hundred thirty-five (and light a candle for each). Being ruined ain’t so bad.

Bentley Laurie smaller

5 thoughts on “July 10: Clerihew Day

  1. Pingback: Kenyon Review // Double Double, Part 1 (Dactyls)

  2. If you are fond of Clerihews, you really should pay a visit to our Facebook Group ‘The Clerihew Zone’. We’ve just ended a contest (See the member Clerihews Discussion). Another Clerihew competition is coming in September- we’ve got 77 members and have lots of fun- come join us.

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