Jul 21, 2011


A limerick is a five-line, often humorous and ribald poem with a strict meter. Even if you’ve never heard of the form before, you’re probably at least familiar with the most common first line of a limerick: "There once was a man from Nantucket."

The origin of the name limerick is debated. The name is generally taken to be a reference to the City or County of Limerick in Ireland sometimes particularly to the Maigue Poets, and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included a refrain that included "Will [or won't] you come up to Limerick?"

The limerick form was popularized by Edward Lear in his first Book of Nonsense (1845) and a later work (1872) on the same theme. Lear wrote 212 limericks, mostly nonsense verse. It was customary at the time for limericks to accompany an absurd illustration of the same subject, and for the final line of the limerick to be a kind of conclusion, usually a variant of the first line ending in the same word.

Gershon Legman, who compiled the largest and most scholarly anthology, held that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene, and cites similar opinions by Arnold Bennett and George Bernard Shaw, describing the clean limerick as a periodic fad and object of magazine contests, rarely rising above mediocrity.

*in the following example, limerick is pronounced "lim'rick" to preserve meter

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

The first line traditionally introduces a person and a place, with the place appearing at the end of the first line and establishing the rhyme scheme for the second and fifth lines. In early limericks, the last line was often essentially a repeat of the first line, although this is no longer customary.

The most prized limericks incorporate a kind of twist, which may be revealed in the final line or lie in the way the rhymes are often intentionally tortured, or both. Verses in limerick form are sometimes combined with a refrain to form a limerick song, a traditional humorous drinking song often with obscene verses.

The structure of the limerick is as follows:

Lines 1, 2, and 5 have seven to ten syllables (three metrical feet) and rhyme with each other.
Lines 3 and 4 have five to seven syllables (two metrical feet) and also rhyme with each other.
The rhyme scheme is a a b b a

xXx xXx xXa
xXx xXx xXa
xXx xXb
xXx xXb
xXx xXx xXa

The capital X shows the stressed syllables

For my examples I chose to stick with strictly nonsense, rather than the obscene. :-D

There once was a lady from Spain
Who loved to sing out in the rain
Her voice was quite vile
Though she sang with great style
And I do wish that she would refrain!

The problem with Panda is that
She is a most curious cat
she sticks in her nose
where it oughtn’t to goes
and she gets into trouble with that.

There once was a young man from France
At whom all the ladies would glance
He asked them to wed
But the ladies all fled
Leaving him looking askance.


Jolene Perry said...

Wow. I totally remember doing these in high school. Both the dirty ones and the ones we had to do for class.

Tara Tyler said...

i will work one up for my niece, who is having a baby saturday...

C R Ward said...

I can't believe I waited so long to do this form. :-)