Fun forms

This page is a refuge for verse forms, most of them short, which are purely for entertainment, with no artistic pretensions.

Clerihew * Limerick * Rondelet * Ruthless Rhyme


The clerihew consists of two rhyming couplets which purport to sum up the life and works of a famous person. Exaggeration, wilful misunderstanding, and even complete fabrication or character assassination, are permitted, and perhaps encouraged. The first line is always the person's name. Try these:

Alfred Sisley
Painted when it was drizzly.
He suffered critics' strictures
For the streaks on his pictures.

Beatrix Potter
Was certainly not a
Girl of orthodox habits.
Her tastes ran to rabbits.

The clerihew was invented by E C Bentley (1875-1956), an English journalist and novelist whose initials stood for "Edmund Clerihew". He also wrote a ground-breaking detective novel called Trent's Last Case. 

Ogden Nash wrote a lot of delightful animal poems in a form very like the clerihew, though he usually had more in the first line than just the name of the species. It's tempting to sneak in a few of Mr Nash's gems, but in keeping with the policy of the site, here are a couple of my own efforts:

The Rorqual
The rorqual
Swims without a snorkel.
Though it fishes with skill
It can only catch krill.
The Bittern
With the elusive bittern
I was once quite smitten.
Ardour cooled, by and by;
Now, like it, I'm twice shy.


Come on, everyone knows the limerick. You must have written some.

Edward Lear invented the form, and wrote many of the earliest and most boring ones. Thousands, and perhaps millions, more have been written since, many of them anonymously because their humour was so appalling or their content so obscene.  But there is also a tradition of limericks about science, which we continue here with one about Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics:

In a Monastery Garden
The was a young monk of Moravia
Who studied plants' sexual behaviour -
Not the birds and the bees,
But the mating of peas.
The monks are like that in Moravia

It is of course possible to write a poem consisting of several limerick stanzas - this is sometimes called a limerick poem. A serious poem that is very nearly in this form is The Night-piece: To Julia by Robert Herrick (1594-1674).


An odd little form, with a repeating short line, and a strict metre and rhyming scheme. Here's one (inspired by the name of the form):

    He's late again!
Where can the stupid man have gone?
    He's late again!
God, I'm fed up with bloody men!
It's not a rare phenomenon -
He always gets held up, does Ron.
    He's late again!

Perhaps the rondelet is meant to be taken seriously. Who knows?

Do not confuse this form with the roundelay.

Ruthless Rhyme

Ruthless rhymes were created by Harry Graham. If you haven't met them before, and enjoy things that are deplorably funny but not in the best possible taste, do please seek out his work. (My favourite is the one about little Leonie.) It's not that easy to write a poem about death that's funny without being offensive. How about this one:

Out in the Wash
When spouse and clothes got in a tangle
They went together through the mangle.
The faithless rat I did not grieve -
Still flatter, but can't now deceive.

Ruthless rhymes are always written in rhyming couplets - usually two of them, but occasionally more.

The SF writer R A Lafferty featured, in his novel The Reefs of Earth, short poems very similar to ruthless rhymes; he called them bagarthach verses.

Back to Verse Forms home page. 

Bob Newman 2004. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 08/03/2007