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Thursday, October 19, 2006


The poet Betjeman, Sir John,
Lives on in verse, though he is gone.
He loved old churches, trains and girls' sweet noses,
And wreathed them with poems, like posies.

VR

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Louis Quatorze, King of France,
Loved gallantry, conquest and dance;
He begat many children, though few with his wife,
And was known as the Sun King - Lord, what a life!

VR

Friday, July 21, 2006


Anthony Wedgwood Benn
Was born upper-crusty, but then
He wanted to be the working man's crony -
So changed his name to plain Tony.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The Emperor of Russia, Alexander the First,
Couldn't quench, as Tsar, his spiritual thirst.
Some say he wandered off, while others say he died;
His tomb is in St Petersburg - but is it him inside?

VR

Saturday, March 04, 2006


In the novels of Anthony Powell
(To rhyme not with howl but with whole),
Some characters fall, others climb –
While all dance to the music of time.

VR



Tuesday, February 14, 2006


King Christian VII, the Dane,
Was exceedingly odd, or insane;
He ignored his young wife, went to bed with his dog,
And played with his page in the cold Danish fog.

VR



Friday, February 10, 2006


Frederick the Great of Prussia
Was much smaller than Catherine of Russia;
He should have been Frederick the Short -
But that would hardly have thrilled his Court.

VR

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


A clerihew about the last Empress of Russia:

Alix of Hesse
Had much to depress 'er.
Now she's a Saint -
Ain't history quaint?

VR

Thursday, December 01, 2005


The novelist Henry James
Had exceedingly worthy aims.
He endeavoured to track humankind through its mazes
In circumlocutory, long-winded phrases.

VR

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

CATHERINE THE GREAT CONDENSED
(For those who don’t have the time or inclination to read a whole book)
In the form of clerihews and other verses


Catherine the Great
Never lacked for a date.
It isn’t true, of course,
About the horse.

The Grand Duke and Duchess, though wed,
Never mastered the arts of the bed.
He lay there and played with his toys,
While she played away with the boys.

Sergei Saltykov was a rake,
In it for what he could take:
He taught the Grand Duchess desire –
But left, once he’d set her on fire.

The Empress Elizabeth liked balls
Where lords dressed as ladies, and falls
Were frequent as crinolined men
Got tangled in skirts, again and again.

Hanbury-Williams, Sir C.
Loved light verse, flirting and tea.
He famously addressed to an oyster an ode
While writing to Catherine in code.

Stanislas Poniatowski, the Pole,
Longed to play a romantic role.
To console him for ending their fling,
Catherine turned him into a king.

Peter the Third, Tsar of Russia,
Was entirely devoted to Prussia;
His hero was Frederick the Great,
Disgrace and murder his fate.

Prince Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov
Was no dwarf.
He and his brothers, daring and mighty,
Fetched Catherine to reign in her nightie.

Prince Potemkin, another Grigory,
Was an important part of the story.
Stretched out on his sofa, he made women sigh –
Although he had only one eye.

Little Grand Duke Paul
Was snub-nosed, awkward, small.
He grew up to be much the same.
Such a shame!

Baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm
In correspondence was never prim.
To him the Empress poured out her heart
Which he took in excellent part.

Of favourites Catherine had quite a few
And young men lined up in a queue,
Praying ‘Oh please let the Empress have me!’
Whenever the post fell free.

The gentle Sasha Lanskoy
Was Catherine’s most favoured boy;
He loved paintings and precious stones,
But died young, amidst tears and moans.

Platon Zubov, who came last,
Was bossy, boastful and fast,
He puffed himself up to look big
In breeches, frockcoat and wig.

Catherine the Second did awfully well:
She made the Russian Empire swell,
Won lots of wars, and put on weight,
In short – she was great!

VR

Monday, November 28, 2005


The Roman Saul
Became St Paul
When he stopped attacking his betters
And took to writing them letters.

VR

Saturday, November 26, 2005


The Annunciation

The Virgin Mary
Felt a bit scary;
An angel said: 'Boo!
Here's a baby for you.'

VR

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Eve
Didn't believe.
She followed the snake
And baked a fruit-cake.

VR

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


A clerihew about Virginia Woolf's sister, the artist Vanessa Bell:

Vanessa Bell
Did awfully well.
Her family kept fainting
But she carried on painting.

VR

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A clerihew about an Elizabethan magus:

Dr John Dee
Was like me.
He gazed in a crystal ball
And mistook himself for the All.

Monday, November 07, 2005


A clerihew about a poet:

Kathleen Raine
Suffered much pain.
She loved a rotter
Who preferred his otter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


An irreverent clerihew for All Saints' Day (today):

St Jerome
Sat at home.
He thought that sex was dirt,
So kept a lion up his skirt.

VR

Monday, October 31, 2005

I've always liked clerihews, the form of succinct biographical verse invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, and demonstrated by him thus:

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography,
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

The blogosphere seems a perfect place for clerihews to inhabit, so I'll post some of mine here whenever I come up with them. Here's one to start with:

Oscar Wilde
Was a languid child.
He loved a male
And got sent to jail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I've just finished Jean d'Ormesson's most recent novel, Une fête en larmes. In it, the narrator (more or less indistinguishable in this case from the author) spends a day being interviewed for a magazine by a young woman. He starts off as a reluctant interviewee, but as he relaxes and begins to enjoy the company of the young woman, and as she also relaxes, the interview evolves into a reminiscence of the author's life, with his usual preoccupations - love, loss, joy, Venice, Chateaubriand, de Gaulle, the war, his aristocratic family and the loss of their ancestral home, his education in the rue d''Ulm, his work for Le Figaro etc etc. In the end, the conversation lasts for a whole day, and the reader comes away feeling that they have also spend a whole day in the company of Jean d'Ormesson.

The author's conclusion is the same as that of the Biblical preacher, Ecclesiastes ('Vanity of vanities, all is vanity') - that despite this awareness of 'vanity', the fleeting nature of our life and of everything we do and imagine we achieve, it is still worth carrying on, striving, loving, enjoying the world, and living in the best way we can. This is the 'fête en larmes' - the tearful celebration. Nothing matters and yet everything matters. Even Ecclesiastes, points out d'Ormesson, led a busy life, as he himself confirms: 'because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge' - despite the fact that 'of making many books there is no end'.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Economist magazine recently ran a piece asserting that 'The great French novel has all but vanished'. According to the (anonymous) author of this piece, 'Even francophiles in the English-speaking world find it hard to list many contemporary French novelists. '

Well. this francophile begs to differ. On my shelves I have recent novels by Jean d'Ormesson (my out-and-out favourite), Alice Ferney, Catherine Cusset, Pierre Assouline, Michel Houellebecq, Marie Darrieussecq, Clare Béchet and Amélie Nothomb, and the only difficulty is finding time to read them all.




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