July 24, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Sir Humphry Davy
Was not fond of gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

This is the first example of the form that came to be known as the clerihew.

It's a biographical quatrain with a rhyme scheme of AABB. The first line uses the subject's name as a rhyme, while some element of their history occupies the rest of the stanza. The form aspires to wit, irreverence, and metrical irregularity:
Oscar Wilde
Had his reputation defiled.
When he was led from the dock in tears
He said, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at two years."
(Stephen Fry)
Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who invented the clerihew as a schoolboy, is best remembered today as the author of Trent's Last Case, cited previously on Metafilter as the 33rd best mystery novel of all time.

Several clerihews by W.H. Auden
Sarah Palin clerihews
Clerihews on philosophers
Clerihews on female poets of the Romantic era
posted by Iridic (66 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and just to get it out of the way:

Carlos Williams, William
found his very own Ilium
in a pathetic excuse
for his icebox abuse.
posted by Iridic at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

is not you
but out here in the ether
he's not me, either
posted by notyou at 10:17 AM on July 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Deletes more text
But on the green
Jessamyn is the queen

I do not know if the first part is true
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I want to see if I can remember my favorite:

Higgledy-piggledy, Ludwig von Beethoven
(Bored by requests for new music to hum)
Finally responded with oversimplicity
"Here's my fifth symphony: Dun Dun Dun DUN."

I think I got it. Don't remember who wrote it, though. It was reproduced in Western Wind, the world's coolest let's-explain-poetry book.

I could read these all day. Thanks, Iridic!
posted by Neofelis at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

He couldn't think of two lines that summed up his contributions to the site
So he made this metrical joke, which is his right.
posted by DU at 10:24 AM on July 24, 2009

From the wiki-link:

As a 16-year-old student at St Paul's School in London, Bentley invented the clerihew on Humphry Davy (see below) when the lines came to his mind during a science class, and it was a great hit with his friends.

I'm just picturing all the boarding school boys whispering to each other - Hey! Hey! Did you see what Bentley had to say about Sir Davy?! It's just delightfully wicked and irreverent!
posted by Navelgazer at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2009 [7 favorites]

Is a helluva guy
However, he doesn't really appreciate this form of poetry known as a "clerihew," since it's not terribly poetic
Now all he has to do is end the poem with a word that rhymes with "poetic," say, perhaps, "mimetic"?
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:27 AM on July 24, 2009

A clerihew about DaddyNewt.
He lost his last job, even though he is cute.
As of this writing he's still unemployed
but, when he gets hired he'll be overjoyed.
posted by DaddyNewt at 10:27 AM on July 24, 2009

With Jessamyn West
Metafilter's admin staff is blessed
To a name like Cooter she'd not be fitted
So I'll say "I'd hit it."
posted by rusty at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

robocop is bleeding
Writes a bunch of neat things
And he finds his steady drinking
Really helps his thinking
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2009

Neofelis: That's actually a double-dactyl.
posted by rusty at 10:34 AM on July 24, 2009

They say Navelgazer's
Unacquainted with razors
But he'd rather not talk about his shaving habits
simply because "Razor" is the most natural thing that rhymes with "gazer" and sort of got him locked in there... dagnabit.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2009

posts to metafilter because
what a bunch of boring strife
her friends would be in for, if she talked as much about food in real life.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2009

is lazy
so this verse
is terse
posted by kmz at 10:39 AM on July 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

Couldn't think of the next stanza
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


posted by Neofelis at 10:41 AM on July 24, 2009

minus tee
cannot be
pleased to spend his life in
explaining it's not a mathematical function, just a hyphen.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

is ready to cry
Name translation's incorrect
Shouldn't trust teh internet
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2009

Mefite grateful
is quite helpful.
He'll make no excuses
when he's writing clerihewses.
posted by grateful at 11:00 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

will now enmesh us
in a gendered bait-and-switch
by being both tomcat and bitch
posted by kittyprecious at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2009

It was well known that FatherDagon
To the Old Ones had hitched his wagon,
But when the Stars once more are right,
posted by FatherDagon at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

James Brown
got down.
Though his death was off kilter,
he was repeatedly mourned on metafilter.
posted by shmegegge at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2009

old Colonel Sanders
had secret spice handlers
but they couldn’t contend with one guy
who loved pouring MSG on things fried
posted by orme at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2009

Lalochezia Lalochezia
Wot a luverly geezia
'e likes to swear and cluck
Fackity fuckity fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck
posted by lalochezia at 11:08 AM on July 24, 2009

Is really not
Genuinely wicked
He's just kind of a dickhead.
posted by Skot at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Often known to take the piss,
Save when comment's made on blue;
then, to steal more urine, he'll eschew.
posted by Chrischris at 11:11 AM on July 24, 2009

liked both flora and fauna
and also posts about verse
though she thought that the poetry in this thread was quite likely to get worse
posted by marginaliana at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh god... I feel a nerd attack coming on...

Higgledy-piggledy, Ludwig von Beethoven
(Bored by requests for new music to hum)
Finally responded with oversimplicity
"Here's my fifth symphony: Dun Dun Dun DUN."

is more of a double dactyl than a clerihew (despite being only one stanza). Double dactyls often begin with the phrase "higgledy-piggledy" and are sometimes referred to by that name. Here's one as an example:

Higgledy piggledy,
Benjamin Harrison,
Twenty-third president
Was, and, as such,

Served between Clevelands and
Save for this trivial
Didn't do much.

I spent way too much time as a kid poring over Willard Espy's An Almanac of Words at Play, which has great examples of clerihews, double dactyls, and just about any other weird contortion of language you can think of. There are plenty of spoonerisms, too.
posted by speedlime at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2009

The admin jessamyn
Posted a picture of a chicken.
She also deletes answers from Ask MetaFilter
When they are out of kilter.
posted by tellurian at 11:51 AM on July 24, 2009

Chronic no_monik
Vodka and tonic
Friday's a good day
What else can I say

posted by no_moniker at 11:52 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wasilla's Sarah Palin
Is a wacky fan of duty bailin'
Also, the very Polar opposite of deep...
Thanks be to high-information voters, she's not our Veep.

find it very hard to dodge the regular meter. it just feels wrong
posted by pineapple at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2009

Bentley was at school with G.K. Chesterton, whose autobiography I'm reading at the moment - I've just read the bit where he recounts the story of the Clerihew's invention, which I think is the main primary source on this:
It was he who invented that severe and stately form of Free Verse which has since been known by his own second name as "the Clerihew" or "Biography for Beginner"; which dates from our days at school, when he sat listening to a chemical exposition, with his rather bored air and blank sheet of blotting paper before him. On this he wrote, inspired by the limpid spirit of song, the unadorned lines,

Sir Humprey Davy
Detested gravy
He incurred the odium
Of discovering sodium
Note this is slightly different from the version of the poem recounted above. Chesterton also gives this description of Bentley:
He was, and indeed still is, remarkable for the combination of an extraordinary gravity of visage with extreme agility and quickness of movement. It was a poetic pleasure to see him walk, a little pompously, down the street and suddenly scale a lamp-post like a monkey, with the alleged intention of lighting a cigarette, and then drop down and resume his walk with an unchanged expression of earnestness and serenity.
posted by severalbees at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

The man we call wastelands
Got himself and his taste banned
When he rose to the occasion
With a tableau of the queerest persuasion.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2009

thinks most of these poems are foul
including the one she is currently writing
but hey--it's exciting!
posted by Night_owl at 12:03 PM on July 24, 2009

Barack Hussein Obama II
Would one day be grand lama, he reckoned
But his plan went awry
Because he failed to produce his long-form official birth certificate from the state of Hawaii.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:11 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

The wise god-king ZALGO
Is a hell of a pal, though
Destroy worlds he will do
And then HE COMES and fuck up all of your text, too.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:18 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your Humble and Beloved Commissioner
Is really much too long a name fer
just a guy
On MeFi

yes you DO pronounce it me-FYE. You do, you do, you do.
posted by yhbc at 12:20 PM on July 24, 2009

(Read with the name pronounced like his own native tribe does)

Richard Bruce Cheney
Was a terrible meanie
But one would be remiss
Not to credit the man with elevating the office of Vice President above the level of a bucket of piss.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:24 PM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

oneirodynia howled
I've been disemvoweled!
nrdyn is no fun
people will think I'm the nerdy one.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2009

George W. Bush
had been something of a lush.
His idea of restitution
was fucking up the Constitution.
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

ok, I cheated.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:32 PM on July 24, 2009

can cause such a storm
when she gets up the gumption
to change her name to formequalsfunction.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:43 PM on July 24, 2009

Note: amyms is pronounced amy em ess.

is feeling distress
she should be making stew
instead, she's writing a clerihew
posted by amyms at 12:49 PM on July 24, 2009

rusty is a person who
when writing a clerihew
tum te tum te time
couldn't think of a good enough rhyme.
posted by rusty at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our Spatch
Is quite the catch
(Or so said his mom
To his date for the Prom.)
posted by Spatch at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our Spatch
Is quite the catch
(Or so said his mom,
To his date for the Prom.)

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:35 PM on July 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

doesn't own a Flowbee,
but you can see her counters gleam--
she's real down with OxiClean.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:41 PM on July 24, 2009

William of Orange does not approve of your poetry form.
posted by chairface at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Emits an obscene steam
When off of his home turf
he wheezes a HURF DURF.
posted by benzenedream at 2:06 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ol' Atom Eyes
In his internet guise
Typed some words on the screen
With little regard for what the plarnkh they might mean
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2009

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who did number twos in a bucket
Not much else to the man
Except that he was the subject of a million bad limericks from here to Japan.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:35 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

"goodnewsfortheinsane", you'll ask, "who?"
And most will have nary a clue
He smelled like sick dogs
Fucked sheep in his clogs
But he did invent the five-line limerick version of the clerihew.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2009

Is this something I
Would have to vibrate to—OH HAI!
I should have prefaced this with 'Metafilter:'
And you know who else blahblahblahed?
posted by fleacircus at 5:53 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Introducing CrystalDave
The modestly brave
His posts are novice
And yet nobody saw this
posted by CrystalDave at 1:34 AM on July 25, 2009

Joe in Australia
's poetry was a failure
But the clerihew's brevity
occasioned some levity.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:50 AM on July 25, 2009

is a boorish drunk
online and in verse
but in person he's even worse
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:14 AM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Username Sparx
Enjoys long walks in parks
Candlelit dinners too, he confesses
As well as trying new things, nights in cuddling on the sofa, and making his own dresses.
posted by Sparx at 5:58 AM on July 25, 2009

William of Orange
Wanted to rule over the Blorenge.
With Wales he was smitten,
But he settled for the rest of Great Britain.
posted by ErWenn at 7:04 AM on July 25, 2009

James Augustine Joyce
Had a fine tenor voice;
Then off to Zurich he ran
To write Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man...
posted by El Brendano at 7:08 AM on July 25, 2009

Felt his rhyming instinct begin to stir when
Put on the "orange"-doesn't-rhyme scare-face.
posted by ErWenn at 7:30 AM on July 25, 2009

Professor Henry Louis Gates
Excels in academic debates.
His fate last week was culturally revealing
But may yet lead to Middlesexual healing.
posted by lukemeister at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2009

A clerihew's a piece of shit
The ugliest poetry ever writ
A sloppy idiotic scrawl
Without any rhythm at all
posted by Sys Rq at 10:41 AM on July 26, 2009

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as, well, me
But if I ever thought that satiric poetry could not be brutally annihilated by offhand rhyming comments by those who, perhaps purposefully, misunderstand the communal and comedic values of tech
At least I'll always have Sys Rq
posted by Sparx at 3:17 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Sys Rq at 3:24 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I withdraw and apologise. That came out awfully. I was hoping the inappropriate use of the 'comedic' would indicate a harmless intent. Believe it or not, it was intended to be a compliment - Your poem had me laughing for a good few minutes. I loved the arythmia of the last line!
posted by Sparx at 4:05 PM on July 26, 2009

That's the word 'comedic', not me putting scare quotes up around concepts. Time for sleep. Yes, I think it is.
posted by Sparx at 4:20 PM on July 26, 2009

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