Doesn't do any work,
But if badgered he
Claims to study theories of tragedy.
Continues to shirk.
What on earth are we s'posed to be citing
In the years since The Ethics of Writing?
A clerihew is a well-known form of light verse, invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. It is just four lines long, and comprises two rhyming but non-metrical couplets. (His very first one went: “Sir Humphry Davy/Abominated gravy./He lived in the odium/Of having discovered sodium.”)
During Covid, the distinguished historian Sir Noel Malcolm, former political columnist of this paper, went for many long walks. As he walked, he developed a refinement of the clerihew which makes the form stricter. The first couplet must find a rhyme for the name of an author. The second couplet must conclude with the title of one of that author’s works.
Here is an example: “WB Yeats/Liked all the excitement an uprising creates./Yet he was nowhere to be seen/In Easter, 1916.”
Sir Noel calls his new genre “authorihews” (and has just published a little collection of them for Christmas, under that name). I prefer to call them “malcolmicals”.
Part of the fun is the absurdity created by these rhyming rules: “The contribution of Benito Mussolini/ To political theory was teeny./Only his desire to make a splash is some/Explanation of The Doctrine of Fascism.”
I particularly like the second rhyme in this one: “To the eyes of Bram Stoker/ Everything appeared blood-coloured or ochre:/Apparently he was suffering from macular/ Degeneration when he wrote Dracula.”