Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Clerihew Day!

At sixteen, young Edmund Bentley,
Made a verse form- providently.
More clever than me or you,
He invented the Clerihew.

Today is the 141st birthday of E.C. Bentley, the British journalist and detective fiction author whose 1913 novel, Trent’s Last Case, set the template for complex plots favored by other mystery authors like Dorothy L. Sayers in her Lord Peter Wimsey series.

In his teens, Bentley devised a doggerelish AABB stanza form he christened with his middle name: the Clerihew. It begins with a person’s name, adds a second line rhyming with it, then adds a two-line “fact”.

Among his more famous efforts is this 1905 quatrain:

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

Wikipedia explains the form in this manner:

A clerihew has the following properties:

It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it mostly pokes fun at famous people;
It has four lines of irregular length and metre for comic effect;
The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme, including the use of phrases in Latin, French and other non-English languages; and
The first line contains, and may consist solely of, the subject's name.

According to a letter in The Spectator in the 1960s, Bentley said that a true clerihew has to have the name "at the end of the first line", as the whole point was the skill in rhyming awkward names.

This was no small feat, as Bentley died in 1956.

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