Clerihews Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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The clerihew, a short humorous biographical poem, is named after the English detective novelist, Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875 - 1956), who is credited with creating the style. A clerihew has four lines of two rhyming couplets (aabb) with no fixed metre. The first line is almost always the name of the person the poem is about.

An early example of the clerihew is the following one, written by the then 16-year-old Bentley, at school during a particularly boring chemistry lesson.

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Bentley's first collection of clerihews, Biography for Beginners, was originally published by T Werner Laurie in London in October 1905, in an often-reprinted edition with illustrations by GK Chesterton. This was followed by More Biography in 1929, and Baseless Biography in 1939.

The original collection begins with this Bentley classic.

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

Over the years many people have tried their hand at writing clerihews. Here's one from Irish comic, Terrence 'Spike' Milligan, of The Goon Show fame.

Thomas Tallis
Bore no man any malice
Save an organist named Ken
Who played his music rather badly now and then.

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