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Limerick Poetry, Poems

Updated on February 6, 2018
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Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

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.

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

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.

Edward Lear

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 recently; 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 thie site. You can post any you come up with in the comments, if you wish, (I promise not to steal them!), or make a new article of your own.

Just keep them within the general 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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