Humor Poetry Forms

Six Clerihews by Peter Hartley

16th-century illustration of Archimedes in the tub

The clerihew is a sort of epigrammatic verse (normally) consisting of a pair of rhyming couplets. The first line will often introduce the identify of a famous individual. The next three strains will describe some “fact” about that individual which can include a grain of fact or might merely be completely outrageous. The verse type is known as after its inventor Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956). The strains to be of uneven length and sometimes the primary rhyme might be a humorous one off of the topic’s identify.

Archbishop Tutu
Stored in his mitre a hoopoe,
However few zulus knew the ensuing to-do
Was because of the cuckoo that flew up his tutu.

Queen Victoria stated “We are not amused”
When mildly accused of being confused.
“We are a queen and therefore excused being lax
With some aspects of pronominal syntax.”

Archimedes of Syracuse,
In his tub he changed a fuse,
And noticed that a saline answer
Helped speed up electrocution.

Thought it quite a droll wheeze
To leap into Etna’s crater.
Nonetheless lacking three thousand years later,
Invoking a way of unease.

Sir Leslie Stephen
Discovered the Alps so uneven
He renamed the Matterhorn
The Should-Be-A lot-Flatterhorn.

Immanuel Kant
Knew his mind cells have been scant
When he started the silly season
Together with his light-weight “Critique of Pure Reason”.

Peter Hartley is a retired portray restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters don’t symbolize the views of the whole Society. The comments section on regular posts is supposed to be a place for civil and fruitful dialogue. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The person poet or writer featured in a submit has the power to remove all or any feedback by emailing [email protected] with the small print and beneath the subject title “Remove Comment.”

36 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie June 1, 2019

    Ha! Thanks, Peter. A fun option to begin the day. As they say, “A Clerihew a day keeps insanity away” . . . or one thing like that. In any case, as I learn by means of these miniaturesque gems, I couldn’t help however assume how formal verse (with rhyme, rhythm and construction) is so much simpler than free verse at conveying humor, satire, whimsy,, and so forth. I attempted to think about learn how to translate your Clerihews (or perhaps a easy limerick) into free verse. I gave it up as unimaginable. Come to think about it, has there been any humorous free verse written since Eliot’s “Book of Practical Cats?”


    • Peter Hartley June 1, 2019

      James, thanks on your comments and observations. The standard I like most in the unique clerihews is their utter pointlessness, and the sensation that he (deliberately) leaves in the reader that he couldn’t really think of anything of any nice moment to say, like Sir Christopher Wren “Going to dine with some men” and “George the Third ought never to have occurred”.


    • Simon Dooker June 8, 2019

      Salvador Dali
      Felt he might be President of Mali
      He had the panache
      And could twirl his moustache.

      Albrecht Durer
      Used to learn the Torah
      Surer than surer
      He would have displeased the Fuhrer.

      L.S. Lowry
      By no means visited the Bowery
      For his muse was in Lancs.
      To which he gave eternal thanks.

      Toulouse Lautrec
      Was a nervous wreck
      It was from being together with his fellows
      In too many bordellos.


      • Peter Hartley June 8, 2019

        How unusual, taking a look at your first one, as I lately wrote this:

        Salvador Dali
        On a visit to Bali
        Swore in Somali,
        Swore extra in Bengali
        And twirled his moustache in Kigali.

        But as a result of it isn’t a clerihew, wrote this as an alternative:

        Anthony Trollope
        Deserves an ideal wallop.
        His “Barchester Towers”
        Goes on for hours.

      • Simon Dooker June 10, 2019

        A few more :

        Chaim Soutine
        Hated routine
        He might paint in a cave
        And overlook to shave.

        Vincent Van Gogh
        Was never a toff
        He eschewed posh diners
        And he labored with miners.

        George Seurat
        Used to bop the hora
        But what really despatched him potty
        Was doing footage that have been dotty.

        Anthony Van Dyck
        As soon as owned a motorcycle
        You could assume that not a lot
        But needed to ape the Dutch.

        Rene Magritte
        Used to reside on our road
        Typically a stroller
        He all the time wore a bowler.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi June 1, 2019

    A few of these are amusing, but numbers II and IV don’t match the bill. The true clerihew has solely 4 strains, and the primary is all the time restricted to the identify of the individual being discussed.

    The identify within the first line is supposed to set the rhyme for the first two strains:

    “George the Third
    Ought never to have occurred…”

    “Sir Christopher Wren
    Said ‘I’m going out with some men…’ ”

    Adding a fifth line wrecks the shape.


    • Peter Hartley June 1, 2019

      You write, “The first line is always limited to the name of the person being discussed”. I don’t assume Edmund Clerihew Bentley would agree with you on that time, and he should know. Just three first strains from the man who gave his identify to the verse type: “What I like about Clive”, “The art of Biography”, “On biographic style”. And here is a more trendy one; “Did Descartes / Depart / With the thought / ‘Therefore I’m not.’” I’m nicely aware that two of my contributions include more than the standard four strains. My Oxford Dictionary of English defines the clerihew as “TYPICALLY in two rhyming couplets”. I’m positive Mr Bentley himself would have extended me the same latitude. Lighten up a bit. Clerihews are supposed to be humorous. You seldom appear to examine your information earlier than you start pontificating, and I’m not just speaking about your attempted arguments with me. But you’re starting to a) get on my nerves and b) give me a persecution complicated.


      • C.B. Anderson June 1, 2019

        Peter, a type is both a type or it isn’t. I instructed to Joe that he provide a few examples of exemplary clerihews. After performing some analysis, I conclude that Joe is right in what he says concerning the clerihew. So:

        Peter Hartley,
        So unsmartly,
        Picked a struggle with Joseph S.
        Now his life’s a bloody mess.

    • C.B. Anderson June 1, 2019

      Maybe your level can be better made should you gave a couple of examples of exemplary clerihews.


      • Peter Hartley June 1, 2019

        Edmund Clerihew Bentley
        Was hardly as much as it mentally.
        In comparison with McGonagall his verse
        At greatest might scarcely be worse.

        Johann Sebastian Bach
        Was admired for his high quality antiquark.
        Consuming espresso together with his cantatas,
        Prattling particle physics together with his toccatas.

        John Keats
        Was recognized for his scholarly feats,
        But on first wanting into Chapman’s Homer
        “Translation” he thought a misnomer.

        Joseph Mallord William Turner
        As soon as had a great earner,
        Sadly unaware the Preventing Temeraire
        Lay toasting on his back-burner.

        Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
        Painted as though there have been no tomorrow,
        However a lot to his sorrow and to his great disgrace
        His three thousand works look exactly the same.

        Henry the Eighth
        Hans Holbein portrayed in good faith,
        That vast corporation with noble restraint
        Still took almost six tons of paint.

        Howard of Effingham
        Having a baldric he needed a wig
        He swore like a trooper and ate like a pig
        And behaved like a daily Effingham.

        George Frideric Handel
        Wouldn’t maintain a candle
        To Brahms and Liszt
        Have been he their advisor proctologist.

      • Peter Hartley June 1, 2019

        There was a younger man referred to as “Kip”
        Who was stung on each ears by a wasp
        Once they stated “Does it hurt?”
        He replied “No it doesn’t,
        It can sting me all day if it likes”.

      • Peter Hartley June 2, 2019

        You’ll know “Joe” infinitely better than I do, and he doesn’t know me from a twine of wood I’m relieved to say, but are you able to tell me is he really that fearsome? He seems like a world heavyweight boxing champion.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi June 1, 2019

    Thanks, Kip.

    Simply because one man invented one thing doesn’t mean that his prototype can’t be improved and perfected. We’re all utilizing a helluva better engine than the one constructed by Henry Ford. These three first strains that Hartley quotes from Bentley clerihews are merely godawful, and I’m glad most trendy clerihew writers don’t comply with his rotten example.

    I didn’t know I used to be getting underneath anybody’s skin by merely expressing a viewpoint here. And since I don’t know Peter Hartley from a twine of wooden, I definitely haven’t tried to select any argument with him.

    In any case, let me compose an advert hoc clerihew to deal with a persistent drawback right here at the SCP:

    Mr. Evan Mantyk
    Have to be driven almost frantic
    By poets who pay no consideration
    To propriety, norms, and conference.


    • Peter Hartley June 4, 2019

      In contrast to Mr Anderson I am not on acquainted first-name phrases with Mr/Dr Salemi. Witheringly he tells us that he doesn’t know me from a twine of wood. Now completely happy as I’m to take care of that standing I feel he does know me. He will, I feel, keep in mind me from my correcting him on two or three occasions when I’ve thought it essential to do so. He will keep in mind telling me simply two or three weeks ago that his trochee, spondee and three iambs have been an ideal iambic pentameter line. Dr Salemi is a extremely smart man (just to point out that no one has the monopoly on patronising remarks) and I’m absolutelyconvinced that his reminiscence far surpasses that of any goldfish.

      In a contribution to discussions on these pages I am described by C B Anderson as having [ill-advisedly] “picked a fight with Joseph S. Now his life’s a bloody mess.” It has seemed to me that some members of SCP are virtually afraid of him, that he has a Svengali-like hold over others. Admittedly most of his exchanges I imagine shall be banter or persiflage. But just because we might consider that a comment has been delivered as banter it doesn’t give us the suitable to assume the speaker does NOT imply precisely what he has simply stated. Remarks like Mr Anderson’s usually are not very reassuring.


      • Joseph S. Salemi June 5, 2019

        It seems to be like Peter Hartley is pissed off about one thing, although it took him three full days to compose a reply.

        As for my memory, all I can recall is commenting a number of occasions on your work. You wrote some sonnets pertaining to the First World Warfare, and I made two options, of which you accepted one. The opposite you rejected on accentual grounds, and determined to stay together with your improbably awkward line.

        I then made some suggestion on a poem “Kinlochresort,” which you additionally rejected. Then I commented on something you had stated on Anderson’s submit “Delimitations.” It was not aggressive or argumentative at all towards you.

        Then I made two pertinent objections to 2 out of your six above-posted clerihews. This should have lit your fuse for some purpose, because you responded slightly testily.

        Guess what, Hartley? I nonetheless don’t know you from a twine of wood.

        You’re proper about one factor, nevertheless. I don’t make use of banter or persiflage. I imply the whole lot I say, and I mean it exactly. Should you don’t like it, you’ll be able to bugger off. Acquired that, matey?

        I feel that’s how they are saying it in Britain.

  4. Evan Mantyk June 2, 2019

    Mr. Hartley, thank you for the clerihews.

    Mr. Salemi, thank you for giving me a great snigger!

    And in honor of you each, two clerihews:

    Mr. Peter Hartley
    Restores the art fairly artfully
    In order to not seem artificially;
    They play their part fairly formally.

    Mr. Joseph S. Salemi
    Must be given a Primetime Emmy
    For standing up for formal verse
    On cue, no have to rehearse.


    • Peter Hartley June 2, 2019

      Thank you, Evan, for the commercial. On learning that I had problem restoring artistic endeavors in anything greater than two dimensions a newish colleague immediately riposted with the following:

      A would-be restorer referred to as Hartley
      Can clear footage really fairly well
      However objects with nobs on
      He retains leaving blobs on
      And in corners he pokes only partly.


      • Peter Hartley June 2, 2019

        (He seems to have been unaware that “nobs” in this context often start with a silent Okay.)

      • C.B. Anderson June 2, 2019

        In fact, this is extra a limerick than a clerihew.

    • Peter Hartley June 5, 2019

      J Salemi – “Matey” is a pleasant type of tackle over here so I suppose I must be flattered. “Bugger off” then again is a bit coarse anyplace and a trifle prosaic for a college professor with a vocabulary as fruity as your personal. You appear to stay in a state of perpetual rage.


      • Joseph S. Salemi June 5, 2019

        “Matey” was meant to be ironic.

        Right here’s one thing much less coarse and hopefully less prosaic — a clerihew just for you:

        Peter Hartley
        Is somebody whom you may know partly.
        He fell off a mountain
        So he began syllable-countin’.

  5. Wic E. Ruse Blade June 2, 2019

    1. I respect Mr. Hartley for bringing clerihews to SCP.

    2. As Mr. Hartley factors out, the humour of the comedian biographic verse type invented by Bentley, the clerihew, lies in its purposefully flat-footed inadequacy… The number of accents within the line is irregular. I do agree with the pugnacious Mr. Salemi, the first line virtually invariably ends with the identify of the subject. [By the best way, does he remind anyone else of the educators in Charles Dickens’ “Hard Times”?]

    The finest clerihews likewise use awkward rhymes. Here is an example from Bentley:

    “Steady the Greeks!” shouted Aeschylus.
    “We won’t let such dogs as these kill us!”
    Nothing, he thought, could possibly be bizarrer than
    The Persians profitable at Marathon.

    three. A remaining instance comes from the winner (Maia Sensible) of a clerihew competition at Nationwide Evaluation in February of 1991 posted by John O’Sullivan.

    Keep in mind Salman Rushdie
    Although he wouldn’t be hushed, he
    Has chosen astutely
    To defy the imams mutely.

    four. As to Mr. Tweedie’s question, some PostEliotic Postmodernist comedian poets embrace, inter alia, Ogden Nash, Roald Dahl, Theodore Seuss Geisel, Shel Silverstein, X. J. Kennedy, and Wendy Cope.

    5. Though written prior to Possum’s E-book of Practical Cats (1939), certainly one of my favourite American limericks is that by Dixon Lanier Abernathy/Merritt (1879-1972):

    An exquisite hen is the pelican,
    His bill will hold greater than his belican,
    He can absorb his beak
    Sufficient food for every week
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

    6. Once I was younger, I completely enjoyed Mom Goose’s Nursery Rhymes; Firstly of the New Millennium, I used their fantastic cadences in an unpublished guide on American writers which I entitled “Brother Bruce’s Cursory Crimes”. One example of over one hundred pieces of nonsense suffices,

    “Hey diddle diddle
    Charles Peirce played the fiddle;
    William James jumped over the tune.
    Santayana sighed
    to see such sport,
    and Josiah Royce stayed up on the moon.”


    • Peter Hartley June 2, 2019

      Pricey Wic E Ruse Blade – Thanks very a lot on your feedback and fascinating info on humorous verse. I too have all the time favored the one concerning the pelican however had no concept the place it got here from. And oddly sufficient a couple of months in the past I wrote just a little quatrain about Aeschylus, and had half meant to let this one masquerade as a clerihew too:

      Poor Aeschylus is lifeless. It has been stated
      An eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.
      Just assume what he might have taught us
      About chance principle and the tortoise.

      Gradgrind, I’m afraid, would have had a variety of catching as much as do: this instructional system doesn’t involve any previous details and statistics: we’re speaking dochmiacs and anapaests, proceleusmatic ft and trochaic trimeter, the mechanics of composition however excluding such passe matters as magnificence in nature, aesthetics, inventive creation and poetry as its mode of expression.


  6. James A. Tweedie June 2, 2019

    Bruce, though I appreciated your reference to my questions, and I appreciated the examples you gave of humorous poets since Eliot, my query specifically referenced “free verse” poetry, which doesn’t embrace your examples. In a method, it serves to underscore my level, which was that it is troublesome for free-verse poetry to carry the identical humorous influence as is possible with limericks, for instance.

    Here is one among my makes an attempt at a humorous free verse poem:

    Hunger Games

    The interview went properly
    quite nicely indeed till
    I began chewing on my foot
    all the best way up to the knee

    I should have anticipated that
    a minimum of for corporations hoping
    to hire a whole individual
    is a hard act to swallow.

    I might still welcome examples of free verse humor.


  7. Joseph S. Salemi June 2, 2019

    It’s attainable to put in writing comedian poems in free verse, because the work of Ogden Nash and E.E. Cummings has demonstrated. However the core drawback is that free verse continues to be emotionally tied to the sick mindset of modernism, which is fixated on Excessive Seriousness, confessional revelation, and the pomposity of Portentous Hush. It isn’t straightforward being funny if you end up in thrall to that gaseous trinity.

    The easiest way to write down comic free verse is to parody modernist stances, by expressing silly and bathetic concepts within the tone of Excessive Seriousness that modernism reflexively makes use of. Do this:

    I used to be crossing the road yesterday
    and I had this epiphany:

    the entire world had morphed
    into oneness

    and I too was one
    with the complete cosmos

    and all the things appeared great
    and I felt good

    till a beer truck hit me.

    That’s the type of bovine excrement that modernism favors, and whenever you add that last line of bathetic parody you undermine your complete modernist challenge.


  8. Wic E. Ruse Blade June 2, 2019

    Mr. Tweedie’s “Hunger Games” is a nice comedian bauble. Discover the first 4 strains are iambic trimetre, iambic trimetre, iambic tetrametre, iambic trimetre (with a lead-in anapest), however within the second part (I dare not name it a stanza.), he wanders about. Nevertheless, in reference to his remarks on “Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, I’m wondering if Mr. Tweedie is talking about the same guide of T. S. Eliot’s as I am.

    “The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
    It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
    You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
    When I tell you a cat must have three different names…” and so forth.

    One of the astute observations I’ve read @ SCP about Eliot’s so-called free verse is that by G. M. H. Thompson who pointed out that Eliot was “being unfairly blamed for the free verse unpoetry that currently dominates the empty stage”. I do miss his impassioned literary important remarks.

    In Eliot’s essay “Reflections of Vers Libre”, Eliot writes: “It is assumed that vers libre exists. It is assumed that vers libre is a school; that it consists of certain theories; that its group or group of theorists will either revolutionise or demoralise poetry if their attack upon iambic pentameter meets with any success. Vers libre does not exist…”

    I understand what Eliot was saying right here—mainly that one can’t write poetry without prosody. In English, we accent any verbal development of two syllables or extra. I keep in mind in my youth once I used to accent prose paragraphs; so much so, that even now, when I’m studying prose, I incessantly accent the syllables of the phrases I learn.


    • Peter Hartley June three, 2019

      Part of the humour of a limerick, not so much a clerihew which doesn’t lend itself to such predictability, is the inevitability of its progression from two longer strains by way of those two brief ones to its climax or punch-line, following an inexorable rhythm and a pattern with which each schoolchild is acquainted. I have never tried it, however certainly it have to be harder, by the very nature of vers libre (free, however still sure by rules) to realize this. There’s all the time the exception, even amongst limericks, to this inevitability in fact:

      There was a younger man from Milan
      Whose limericks never would scan.
      When informed this was so
      He replied “Yes I know, but I always try to get as many words into the last line as ever I possibly can”.


  9. James A. Tweedie June 2, 2019

    Bruce, Yes, certainly we’re discussing the identical Eliot textual content. I nevertheless, misarticulated (isn’t that an excellent word!), and absolutely acknowledge Eliot’s thoroughgoing foray into rhyme and meter with “Cats.” I additionally enjoyed and appreciated your bulls-eye quote from Eliot’s essay re vers libre. Since studying your remark I’ve listened to myself converse in conversation with my spouse. I consider I’m inclined to iambic speech patterns. Fascinating thought . . .

    For Dr. Salemi, Thanks for the instance of cummings whose free and witty whimsical verse did, sometimes, sneak in a rhyme to reinforce the humor. As for Nash, I can’t recall a poem that did not embrace rhyme and at the least some modicum of meter. Then once more, I have not read all of them!

    I absolutely agree together with your rationale for why free-verse, modernist poets, are close to hitless relating to humor.


  10. Monty June 3, 2019

    I by no means knew, ‘fore last week ended,
    Of such a term as Clerihew.
    When to that word my eyes attended,
    My first response was ‘Cleri who?’


    • Peter Hartley June four, 2019

      Monty, one of the best factor about clerihews is that they are very straightforward to compose. You get an excellent start simply by writing the identify of the subject, often in full, on the primary line after which consider perhaps just one reality about that individual and simply go the place the poem takes you. Your providing above is nearly a clerihew but they often rhyme AABB, not ABAB.


      • Monty June four, 2019

        The above effort weren’t an attempt at a Clerihew, Pete. I’ve solely simply learnt of the shape; and I’d slightly be higher acquainted with it earlier than any private essais.

        The above was just a lined approach of declaring my lamentable ignorance for most things technical and obscure regarding poetry.

        Would you kindly quench my veritable curiosity by telling me the writer of the above piece in regards to the word-surplus man from Milan. Is it P. Hartley or A.N. Other?

      • Monty June four, 2019

        The above effort weren’t an try at a Clerihew, Pete. I’ve only simply learnt of the form; and I’d moderately be better acquainted with it before any personal essais.

        The above was only a lined means of declaring my lamentable ignorance for many things technical and obscure concerning poetry.

        Would you kindly quench my veritable curiosity by revealing the writer of the above piece in regards to the word-surplus man from Milan. Is it P. Hartley or A.N. Other?

      • Peter Hartley June four, 2019

        Sorry Monty, I feel it’s the only certainly one of my contributions that isn’t, and I do not know the place it comes from. It’s a limerick in fact, and I’m not completely positive but I feel they ALWAYS rhyme AABBA

  11. David Watt June four, 2019

    Thanks Peter, for introducing us to the humorous Clerihew type. A few of the responses have additionally been fairly informative, together with Mr. Blade’s attribution of the delightful ‘A Wonderful Bird is a Pelican’ to Dixon Lanier Abernathy/Merritt. I also questioned the place this originated.

    Within the spirit of whimsy and mirth I add:

    The kangaroo has a trick or two,
    Including a strong punch,
    A foot requiring monumental shoe,
    And a pouch to stow her lunch.


    • Peter Hartley June 4, 2019

      Thank you for that, David, and that was a new one on me. A factor I’ve found about limericks and even more with clerihews is that they don’t take long to put in writing. I feel I can keep in mind doing half a dozen in a couple of hours, and that is very quick for me, the place I’d take two days or extra tweaking a sonnet. Lastly, how about this then; this one is mostly a little bit of a cop-out in that after you have the thought the remaining is straightforward:

      Friedrich Nietzsche
      Had just one fascinating fietzsche.>
      Spelling the identify of this crietzsche
      Defeated his philosophy tietzsche.


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