Origins of the Clerihew
The Clerihew poem is named for Edmund Clerihew Bentley, an English poet and writer who lived from 1875-1956. Some sources state that he did not invent the clerihew but as his poems gained popularity, the poetic form eventually took his name.
Purpose and Use
Clerihew poetry is probably one of the easiest and most fun forms to master. The format is short and to the point, but still contains the challenge of including both rhyme and satire within its short four lines. It follows a common aabb rhyme scheme, where the ending words of the first two lines rhyme, and then the ending words of the last two words rhyme. The first line should be, or at least contain the name of the person the clerihew is about. A clerihew is intended to make fun of someone, usually someone famous, but not to slander them and be cruel. It is a lighthearted, not angry verse. Clerihew poems should not be used to really hurt someone’s feelings or bully peers.
Examples of Clerihews
One of the most famous examples of Bentley’s clerihews is the following:
Sir Humphry Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
Sir Humphry Davy, the scientist credited with being the first to isolate the element sodium, along with various other successful developments, is being picked on here, insinuating that he wasn’t a fan of sodium despite his discoveries, thus, hated gravy.
This of course, is written in the tongue of Bentley’s day. I wrote a more modern example of a clerihew about Hulk Hogan.
Terry Bollea, also known as the Hulk,
A wrestler with plenty of bulk
Pinning his opponent, his face turns red.
Everywhere except the bald spot on his head.
Integrate Clerihews into Other Subjects
Instead of leaving the usefulness of the clerihew to basic pop culture, teachers can use this as a creative way of helping their students memorize the who-is-who of difficult history or science subjects. They can write clerihews to help remember who was important in the American Revolution, or the Civil War. Clerihews can be used to remember what Marie Curie did, or blended in with important facts on mathematicians or biologists. Basically you can tweak clerihews to make any subject fun and memorable. Doing this will aid students’ memories better than simple pneumonic phrases as most pneumonic phrases are awkwardly composed and not funny. Try this one for George Washington.
Heroic at Valley Forge
The USA to us he did bequeath
Long after losing most his teeth.
Student Products and Displays
Lastly, once your students have comprised their clerihews based on a given subject, have them compile them into an anthology.This anthology can be used as a quick-reference guide for reviews, or as an entertaining product of all their hard work to be put on class or school display. Who knows, your students may even start writing clerihews on their own for other classes or just for kicks.
Resources for More Information
Resources for more information:
https://thinks.com/words/clerihew.htm Clerihews-Rhyming Poems
Janeczko, Paul. A Kick in the Head-An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Scholastic, New York, 2005.