Monday, 9 March 2015

Clerihew poem form

I recently came across a verse-form I'd never heard of: CLERIHEW.
The definition says its a 'humorous, pseudo-biographical verse of four lines of uneven length, with the rhyming scheme AABB, and the first line containing the name of the subject'.

It sounds like a useful form - have I been using it? Probably not, though I've often been able to cast my poems into a form with a name long after writing them. The reason for that is probably because reading poetry involves being conscious of form and rhythm, as well as rhyme, the latter of which is, however, often sacrificed - but is that a sacrifice? Omittance can be, but does not have to be sacrifice. Worth discussing, but not here and now.

So here I should now go, i.e. try to write a clerihew off the cuff. You will note that nothing in the definition is said about the length of the lines. They could be a couple of rhyming hexameters, couldn't they? In German there's a form called the 'Bänkellied' (You can get a translation by clicking on the appropriate button!) The Bänkellied and its equivalents were very popular often used by travellers - to talk about current affairs, wars and other dramatic events. They were often satirical. But of course, informing the folk 'live' about current affairs etc was a common practice in the old days. this poetry form was popular from about the 13th century! There were no newspapers or other media, so people not in London or other places of importance relied on informed persons to keep them up to date at markets or on village greens; if the news was sung, it carried further; if the lines had a rhyme, they were easier to remember.

Addition: March 6th 2016

I've just noticed that I added a German link for Bänkellieder. I changed language to English on Wikipedia and got THIS!

Ah, nostalgia for the old times? Of course not. All that was a long time ago, but even today, popular music carries that function. Listen to the lyrics of any pop or jazz song and you have your proof. The soul, loss, love, loneliness etc. are all common subjects. I suppose the original message was personal, but you can go through the millions of songs and find something that fits you! How about the Beatles song 'Yesterday', for a start? That was one of the most sung and most copied pop songs of the 20th century. The lyrics are strangely poetic - not trite unless you are determined to find pop culture trite per se. The first line 'Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away' is a bit nonsensical in a poetic way, but fits - fits what? The past (nostalgia) or the future (problems to come)? However you interpret the line, it could be you speaking! That's presumably what the millions feel who sing and sang that song. Wow! Fancy writing lines that become immortal!

Immortality was one of William Wordsworth's topics. I had to read Wordsworth in the upper school and hated it. The pace felt dreary, the content gushingly sentimental. I had no desire to meet Wordsworth (whereas I was ardent about Robert Browning!) If you ask someone to quote Wordsworth, it's on the cards that you will get to hear "I wandered lonely as a cloud....".  We've all had that feeling, so the line has stayed in our minds. In any strange city we wander lonely as clouds. That Wordworth was thinking of daffodils at the time need not bother us. We can adapt.
For information about the poem, go here.

Here's the whole poem:

    I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
    Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
    The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
    For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I really would have liked to have composed that, but Wordsworth did the job superbly! There are hosts of websites analysing and preaching about that poem, so I won't!

In the Wikipedia entry there is reference to W's sister Dorothy and her reference to Tintern Abbey. I went there, once. It rained solidly and the ruins looked very bleak in the poor daylight. 

I still haven't written my clerihew! Maybe I should think abotu it first. I'm wander lonely as a cloud through my brain cells and maybe come up with something readable. Until then, you could always read some more Wordsworth!