Updated: Aug 17, 2019

I'm pleased to have eight clerihews in the summer issue of LIGHT. For those who don't know, I'll let Wikipedia tell us what a clerihew is:


A clerihew (/ˈklɛrɪhjuː/) is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light, or revealing something unknown or spurious about them. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced. The line length and metre are irregular. Bentley invented the clerihew in school and then popularized it in books.

This week I had a poem in The Spectator. Their humor contest asked for poems in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan beginning with the line, "I am the very model of a Very Stable Genius." My poem went like this:


I am the very model of a Very Stable Genius. To castigate my temperament is nasty, fake and hee-nius. There’s Lincoln and there’s Washington and other famous presidents Whom I would say I’m smarter than without a moment’s hesitance. I listen to my gut when it gives very fine advice to me. I make up clever names to pin on fools who are not nice to me. I only need to bark to drive my catty critics up a tree. I’m not the star of any show that features Putin’s puppetry. I understand there is a probe, and Mueller is conducting it, and fake news outlets like to lie and say I am obstructing it, but don’t they also say I am afflicted by senility? And wouldn’t that suggest that I am lacking culpability? I wish to be an emperor who sits atop a monarchy But first I need to tear things down and throw things into anarchy. Some say that I’m Hitlerian, or maybe Mussolini-ous, but no, I’m Trump, the model of a Very Stable Genius.

I suspect most people these days know of this traditional rhyme through the Simon & Garfunkel version, where it is blended with Simon's "Canticle," but it dates back at least to 1784. Here is the main version of it recorded in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. I like it a lot more that the S&G which removes the dialog element completely and sets it in the third person. In this version, you'll notice that the first three stanzas are spoken by a man to a woman, and the remainder is the woman's response. Though the images are quite lovely, the tone is humorous flirtation.


Can you make me a cambric shirt, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Without any seam or needle work? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you wash it in yonder well, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Where never sprung water, nor rain ever fell? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you dry it on yonder thorn, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Which never bore blossom since Adam was born? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Now you have asked me questions three, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; I hope you'll answer as many for me, And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you find me an acre of land, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Between the salt water and the sea sand? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you plough it with a ram's horn, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; And sow it all over with one pepper corn? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you reap it with a sickle of leather, Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme; And bind it up with a peacock's feather? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


When you have done, and finished your work, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Then come to me for your cambric shirt, And you shall be a true lover of mine.

© 2019 Robert Schechter 

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