Jul. 10, 2002

some clerihews

by Various

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: Some clerihews.

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

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque.

I doubt if King John
Was a sine qua non.
I could rather imagine it
Of any other Plantagenet.

Dante Alighieri
Seldom troubled a dairy.
He wrote the Inferno
On a bottle of Pernod.

Cecil B. De Mille
Rather against his will,
Was persuaded to leave Moses
Out of 'The Wars of the Roses.'

Alexander Selkirk
Was too grand for hotel work.
He informed a maid
That he was monarch of all he surveyed.

E.C. Bentley
Mused while he ought to have studied intently;
It was this muse
That inspired clerihews.

It's the birthday of short story writer Alice Munro, born in Wingham, Ontario, Canada (1931). Her collections of stories include Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You (1973), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), The Progress of Love (1986), and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001).

It's the birthday of novelist and television writer Earl Hamner, Jr., born in Schuyler, Virginia (1923). He's the author of seven novels, one of which, The Homecoming (1970), he adapted in the following year for a CBS television movie of the same name. The movie version gave rise to the successful CBS television series, The Waltons. The characters in the movie and television series were largely based on Hamner's own family in rural Virginia.

It's the birthday of French novelist Marcel Proust, born in Paris, France (1871). He was a sensitive, neurotic, and asthmatic youth who know early on he wanted to be a writer. The death of his mother in 1905 was such a shock to his system that he retreated into his room for two years. The room was lined with cork to keep out noise, the windows were tightly shut, and he spent most of his time in bed, writing. When he emerged from his room in 1907, he had notes and drafts for the novel that would keep him busy for the rest of his life, A la recherche du temps perdu, which was published between 1913 and 1927. Marcel Proust wrote: "All the great things we know have come to us from neurotics. It is they who have founded religions and created great works of art."

It's the birthday of novelist and biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts (1861). He was the biographer of Mark Twain and lived with him for four years while writing his book, Mark Twain, a Biography (1912). He also wrote several novels and numerous children's stories.

It's the birthday of Protestant reformer John Calvin, born in Noyon, France (1509). During a government crack-down on religious reform, he left Paris for Basel, Switzerland. There, he studied theology and began work on his most important book, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. The first edition was published in 1536, and earned him a reputation among Protestant reformers. He ended up in Geneva, Switzerland, where he drew up "ecclesiastical ordinances" for the religious governance of Geneva. His brand of Protestantism, which became known as Calvinism, combined a belief in predestination with strong religious control of the state. It was especially influential among the Puritans in the New England colonies. John Calvin wrote: "Our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness."

It's the birthday of British writer Edmund Clerihew Bentley, born in London, England (1875). He first achieved fame for his 1913 mystery novel, Trent's Last Case, which he wrote as a reaction against the prevailing conventions of detective fiction. Unlike the infallible Sherlock Holmes, Bentley's detective, Philip Trent, bungles his cases and comes up with ingenious solutions that turn out to be completely wrong. Bentley also became known as the inventor of a new form of verse, the "clerihew," which he introduced in his 1905 book, Biography for Beginners. A clerihew is made up of two rhyming couplets, the first rhyme provided by the name of a famous person. For example:

       George the Third
       Ought never to have occurred.
       One can only wonder
       At so grotesque a blunder.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show