Clerihew: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

I have mentioned Clerihew a few times on this blog and I even made an entire theme of Bright Dreams Journal of the genre, but what exactly is it and what does it accomplish?

First and foremost, yes, poetry has to accomplish something. It does not matter what. Entertainment, persuasion, and information are the most common. For Clerihew, entertainment is the most obvious choice. However, using Clerihew as a way to give information about people can also be a great way to help children remember important historical figures.

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

This poem was written by Edmund Clerihew Bentley and published in 1905. It is actually the first Clerihew ever written. Bentley is the creator of the poetic form.

As you can see, the poem is quite silly, yet it is very informative at the same time. If you are a teacher, student, or parent, this is a great way to put your love of poetry to good use.

Structure of Clerihew

The poem is written as four lines consisting of two rhyming couplets, bringing the structure to AABB. The poem’s subject is always a well-known individual or historical figure. The poem must also be comical.

The first line of the poem is quite often only the individual’s name. However if not, the individual’s name must be mentioned and is usually at the end of the line (although not required).

The great thing about Clerihew is that it has many uses and can provide value to poetry through its teaching potential.

I mean, look at it this way. How many of you readers know of Sir Humphry Davy? Did you know that he discovered sodium? I would bet not many of you did know that. This is the type of information Clerihews can help spread easily, while using an easy to understand, humorous, and informative approach.

I have seen Clerihew take on a whole other form as well. Instead of only four lines, the poem was changed into a stanza with multiple other stanzas following it having the same structure and subject. This resulted in something of an epic writing about the well-known individual. This manipulation may be a great way to write about specific historical figures, like George Washington, Adolf Hitler, or Albert Einstein who have had many contributions to our history.

The Clerihew is a great poetic form, but like all things, they may be manipulated slightly to fit the needs of the writer.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.