Grues and Clerihews

GRUE as a literary term refers to a comically sadistic and grisly little poem of four lines. Coined by Robert Louis Stevenson, the word comes from gruesome. Here is an example of a grue:


Daddy and his tidy spouse

Killed all the kiddies in the house.

Mommy said, when Daddy cried,

“Come on, let’s get the ones outside!”


These poems are often called “Little Willies” after the character who appears in many of them:


Willie poisoned father’s tea;

Father died in agony.

Mother looked extremely vexed;

“Really, Will,” she said, “what next?”


Henry Graham published a collection of grues called Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes (1899) under the pseudonym Col. D. Streamer. Here are two of his offerings:


Father heard his children scream,

So he threw them in the stream,

Saying as he drowned the third,

“Children should be seen, not heard!”



Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,

Fell in the fire and was burned to ashes.

Now, although the room grows chilly,

I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy.


For more on grues or “Little Willies,” go to


CLERIHEW is another type of four-line poem with a rhyme scheme, like most grues, of aabb. Invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), the clerihew is about an actual person whose name constitutes the first line. Unlike most grues, the clerihew has no set rhythm or meter:


Henry James

Came up with some pretty ridiculous names,

E.g., “Casper Good-




James Joyce

Had an unusually loud voice;

Knightly knock eternally wood he make

Finnegans Wake



John Stuart Mill

By a mighty effort of will

Overcame his natural bonhomie

And wrote “Principles of Political Economy.”


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