Limerick Poetry, Poems

Limerick Form

Of the many poetic styles, the easiest to learn and play with is the Limerick. It consists of a 5-line poem in which the first two lines rhyme, then the middle two, and the final line rhymes back to the first two. It's a format referred to as "aa-bb-a"

Generally speaking, Limericks have a set pattern of syllables, as well: between 7 and 10 in the first pair of lines; 5 to 7 in the second pair, and back to the 7 to 10 in the final line. As you can see, the fact that there is a range of 'allowable' syllables makes for an easy-to-construct poem.

It is not strict as long as it is consistent within the poem. As you can see in the first example below, there are 8 syllables in the each of the first two lines, but in the second pair, there are 6 and 5 syllables, respectively, while the final line matches the 8-syllable pattern of the first pair. What is important, as with most poetry, is the flow.

Limericks are traditionally irreverent, bawdy or just plain silly verses. Their chief attribute is entertainment, and they are easy to recall, making them perfect for kids and the silliness that kids so enjoy. Here is a classic one, whose author is lost in antiquity:

There was an old man of Blackheath,

Who sat on his set of false teeth.

He jumped up with a start

And cried, "Bless my heart!"

"I've bitten myself underneath!"

Most likely, everyone will find this famous nursery rhyme familiar--it dates from 1774 or thereabouts. I bet you did not realize it fits the Limerick format:

Hickory Dickory Dock

The mouse run up the clock

The clock struck one

and down he run.

Hickory Dickory Dock.

(Note: I've quoted the original style, hence the apparent grammatical error. Yes, I know nowadays, we'd say '...ran up the clock...')

Edward Lear 1812-1888
Edward Lear 1812-1888

Brief History

This poetic format is said to originate from a particular pub in the city of Limerick, Ireland.

Sometimes it was a parlor game, in which everyone would take turns sing-songing a Limerick extemporaneously invented.

The example above with the nursery rhyme is one of the earlier forms, dating from somewhere around the middle of the 18th century. It was a bit later that they began to tend toward the bawdy/tawdry/naughty side of the road. This is more fitting with the pub scene, in my estimation, so I'm not sure at all of that being the actual origin.

Research online leads to a number of contradictory suggestions Most agree, however, that the form was popularized in the 19th century by Edward Lear with his Book of Nonsense published in 1845 being probably the most well-known.

Familiar with This Topic?

Have you every heard of Limericks before?

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A Different Style of Limerick

Although this format is normally reserved for silliness, that is not to say that they cannot be serious, as well. Here are two that I've written as memorial pieces.

Note that the first one does not quite stick to the hard-and-fast syllable count; I was going more for the flow and the thought, while the second one presented in that pair was written in a happy state of mind, prior to losing the kitty.

The poet within

Have you ever written a Limerick?

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Here's one I wrote just the other day--it rather composed itself as I was trying to drift off to sleep.

There was a young woman of Leeds,

Who planted a package of seeds.

They came up in a week;

Then the neighbors heard, "EEK!"

For all that had sprouted were weeds!

Simple, eh? Ok, now it's your turn! Turn on those creative, goofy, funny juices, and let's see some new Limericks sprout out all over Hub Pages. ;-) You can post any you come up with in the comments, if you wish, (I promise not to steal them!), or make a new hub of your own.

Just keep them within Hub Pages guidelines for appropriate content; that is to say, the original 'naughty' forms are probably 'not okay,' but be as silly as you like.

© 2010 Liz Elias

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Comments 21 comments

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

hello, mihkl, Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing that bit of witty pedantry. I'll bet that stopped the fool in his tracks. Most people respond to insults in kind, but when you hit them with wit, they are left spinning, and don't know how to respond.

I'm glad you liked the article, and appreciate this sly poetic format.

mhikl profile image

mhikl 4 years ago from Calgary, Canada

Have written limericks since childhood. My mum would encourage my mood. They usually fit well and always did tell, a story that pleased our large brood.

Now I practice them in the pub with my friends. Usually a moment arises and the limerick just happens. Though they produce the usual groans, they are often followed by laughter and a good time is had by all.

At times I plant one on forums I belong to. At an Apple forum the other day there was a rude and particularly belligerent troll trying to get our goad and he was being quite nasty about it. Instead of insults some Apple fans were using, I resorted to the time honoured limerick and composed the following (though I have since refined it in the second rendition which follows the original).

Said the discerning Apple devote

To the Troll who was raging a lot, eh

"If I just had your head,

in a machine I would shred,

As a lesson to all who are naughty".

I tried again by adding a clever twist at the end to support the strange rhyme of the second line.

Said the discerning Apple devotee

To the Troll who was ragging a lot, eh

"If I just had your head,

in a machine I should shred,

And the grounds to be used in our coffee".

The first rendition fit the original crime. The second played on the original coffee theme rhyme. (lot, eh; ragging (coffee made by passing water through a cloth rag with ground coffee); grounds - coffee and the idea of the caste away)

A good limerick, in my understanding, does follow the use of rhyme and the syllable patterns supported by the vocal cadence of its structure. But it also must be clever with careful word choice. However, clever can be over done and may end up marring its impact. I think the original is successful in its purpose, to give a reminder or slap on the wrist of the rude. (In a meaner spirit I could have chosen "nasty" instead of the lighter "naughty". "Dotty" could have been used for further impact while keeping the purer rhyme.

The second, however, endeavours to be clever and undermines the purpose.

There is complexity in this poetic form and I agree it is a worthy poetic member, too much maligned and often too easily dismissed.

sweety 5 years ago


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, sArAh--

Thanks for your contributions. Keep on practicing--this is a fun poetry form. You've got the rhyming pattern down right--all you need to work is the meter. The last line should be about the same length as the first. Your first poem fits that better.

By the way, as this is an older hub article, I don't visit it very often, so sometimes a month or more goes by between comments and replies.

sArAh 5 years ago

no coment on mine huh!

hap trails doesn't ryme very well.

looky here and see what an eleven year old can do.

There once was a pig,

who liked figs.

There were knowmore,

so the pig went to war.

The piggy lost an eye,died,and and didn't win any figs.

how bout that old people!:)

sArAh 5 years ago

There once was a hen,

who sat on a wren.

the hen then fell on a snail,

the snail was as flat as a mail

the hen then died at ten.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

LOL, Hap Trail!

Very funny & clever! Thanks for stopping by!

Hap Trail 6 years ago

He shot a bullet

through her head,

They say it's something

Glen Beck said?


-- My Bad

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

LOL, Gus!

Just realized..many of those old Burma Shaves are themselves Limericks...never paid attention to that before--and some are very brief 4-line couplets:

"She shot a bullet

Through his hat;

He'd had closer

Shaves than that."

Perhaps that is a whole other hub...but then again, probably not. There is an entire book about those called, "The Verse by the Side of the Road."

Cheers... ;-)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

DML - Don't do this to me !

Burma Shave for Gent and Knave


Burma Shave's for beards that be,

My beard was long - down to my knee.

I was a dunce

who cut it once.

Now no one knows it's me!

Gus :-)))

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

LOL, Gus

Great story and background! Thanks for adding that interesting tidbit. I wonder if the 'fence poems' were written in a format akin to the old "Burma-Shave" signs? ;)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

DML - I like limericks except for the really nasty kind, and I have seen a whole big book full of those (by Isaac Assimov and a famous writer whose name right now escapes me). One time I read a short article in a newspaper that spoke of the folks in the town, Limerick, in Maine. Seems like there was one old resident who spouted limericks every time someone stuck him with a pin. He died and Limerick no longer had a continuing supply of limericks. I wrote a small booklet of new ones for them and sent it along. It included the one here, below. It is one of the "Dumb Poems" put up here on Hubpages - # 73 I believe -

"The Old Stone Fences of Limerick, Maine


Bob Frost loved those Limerick fences.

Maine boulders sure tickled his senses.

So he wrote a fence poem,

then took his words home,

wondering, 'Should all my thens have been thences?'"

Gus :-)))

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, GusTheRedneck

Hahaha!! That's one I hadn't seen before--very funny. Thanks for sharing.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Here's an oldie I recall from the "Readers' Digest of many years ago -

"There once was a girl from St. Paul -

Wore a newspaper dress to the ball.

While there her attire

Caught completely on fire,

Burned front page, sporting section, and all."

Gus :-)))

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

LOL, Wayne! Thanks for stopping by and contributing! ;-)

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

Two old maids standin' by the front door

Waving to Fred as down the road he tore

They shouted We shall not ever venture

Dare say We would not endenture

To the likes of courting that old bore

Sa`ge profile image

Sa`ge 6 years ago from Barefoot Island

should'a left that last line completely out LOL!

Have a wonderful day :D



DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Sa'ge nice attempt. Keep at it.. ;-)

Sa`ge profile image

Sa`ge 6 years ago from Barefoot Island

there once was a women of old

who had ate some bread with mold

they found her stone cold

under some clothes she was trying to fold

she had died from a bad cold

so I have been told.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 6 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

pork22-you've got the hang of it, alright--a bit of a walk on the dark side, but it definitely fits into 'nonsense verse.' Good job!

pork22 profile image

pork22 6 years ago

There was an old man on the farm,

Who mowed grass and did little harm

He drove like a nut

Screamed the lawn must be cut

Then he ran over another mans arm.

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    Liz Elias (DzyMsLizzy)883 Followers
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    Liz has always loved reading and writing, and has been fascinated by language since childhood. Word games are her among favorite type.

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