Limerick Poem

A limerick is a well-known type of poem, usually funny or nonsensical in tone and subject. The song-like quality of a limerick poem is widely recognised due to its distinct form and rhyme scheme. To begin, let's take a look at this limerick about limericks!

Limerick Poem Limerick Poem

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Table of contents

    The limerick packs laugh anatomicalInto space that is quite economical.But the good ones I've seenSo seldom are cleanAnd the clean ones so seldom are comical.1

    The structural compactness and 'comical' tone are the defining characteristics of this poetic form. We will explore this and more about limericks, so keep reading!

    Limerick Poem Definition

    A limerick is a poem comprised of only five lines in a single stanza with a strict AABBA rhyme scheme.

    Limericks often tell a short tale or description, usually about something trivial, and most often with a pithy, comedic tone. Some can even be downright crude!

    Scholars largely agree that the term 'limerick' originates from a reference to the Irish city and county, Limerick; however, it is not where the poetic style originated. Rather, the form finds its roots in England, and its name is thought to have come from an old poem titled "Won't You Come to Limerick?" which featured the limerick's distinct rhythm and rhyme scheme.

    Limerick Poem Rules

    Limericks must follow various structural rules upon composition. They must:

    1. Be composed of only a single stanza

    2. Consist of exactly five lines

    3. Contain an "A" rhyme on the first, second and fifth lines

    4. Contain a different "B" rhyme on the third and fourth lines

    These rules must be followed for a poem to be accurately categorised as a limerick. They are particularly important as they create the form's recognisably playful, fast-paced rhythm.

    Edward Lear Limerick Poems

    English poet Edward Lear (1812-1888) can be credited with popularising the limerick form in the 19th century. He is known for his literary nonsense, particularly nonsense verse in his poetic works.

    Literary nonsense is a genre of literature that balances various elements of sense and nonsense. It often creates a subversive effect, calling into question the integrity of language conventions and logical reasoning. Humour is derived from its nonsensical nature, rather than a structured joke or punchline typical of other humorous literature.

    His fourth work, a collection of poetry titled A Book of Nonsense, published in 1846, contained 117 limerick poems, most of them intentionally nonsensical and silly. Many iconic limericks come from A Book of Nonsense, and some are still recited today!

    Let's consider the first, and arguably the most famous, poem from the collection:

    There was an Old Man with a beard,

    Who said, 'It is just as I feared!

    Two Owls and a Hen,

    Four Larks and a Wren,

    Have all built their nests in my beard!'

    Lear's opening limerick poem sets the tone for the rest of the collection. It is silly, funny and evocative, creating a descriptive image of the 'Old Man'. The poem is simple and easily read, creating a lightness and a sing-song quality typical of limerick poems.

    Limerick Poem Examples

    We can consider other poems from Lear's A Book of Nonsense. For example, let's have a look at 'Limerick 91':

    There was a Young Lady of Russia,

    Who screamed so that no one could hush her;

    Her screams were extreme,

    No one heard such a scream,

    As was screamed by that lady of Russia.

    The poem's rhyme scheme is evident here: Lear even uses the same word twice, ending the first and the last lines with 'Russia'. This creates a sense of conclusion and lends the poem a self-contained feeling. Limerick poets often used self-rhymes for these effects.

    Lear uses more repetition, using the word 'scream' twice in lines three and four. This underscores the poem's trivial nature and creates a more vivid description in such a limited form.

    Funny Limerick Poems

    Another famous limerick we can consider is the tale of the man from Nantucket, written by Dayton Voorhees, an American professor at Princeton University. The poem was published in 1902 in the college humour magazine, the Princeton Tiger.

    There once was a man from Nantucket

    Who kept all his cash in a bucket.

    But his daughter, named Nan,

    Ran away with a man

    And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

    Once again, there is a repetition of place at the end of the first and last lines, creating that same self-contained effect as Lear's poem.

    The poem has become a staple of American humour, in which the first line, 'There once was a man from Nantucket', is reused to begin a new limerick. The name of the island of Nantucket was most popularly reused to be rhymed with various lewd words or puns, so much so that the opening line is often used as a stand-alone joke, suggesting upcoming obscenities.

    Nursery rhymes

    More innocently, however, the limerick form is perhaps most recognisable in its appearance as nursery rhymes. A widely recited example is 'Hickory Dickory Dock':

    Hickory, dickory, dock.

    The mouse ran up the clock.

    The clock struck one,

    The mouse ran down,

    Hickory, dickory, dock.

    The sing-song, aural quality of the limerick poem creates a natural lightness, and its aptitude for storytelling, makes the form perfect for children's poetry, especially when combined with its trivial and simple nature.

    The simultaneous existence of limericks for both audiences has cemented the form as a staple poetic mode in popular literary culture for over a century. It stands as a fun introduction to poetry for children and adults alike.

    How to write your own limerick poem

    The limerick poem's short and simple structure makes it a particularly popular form with amateur poets. Writing your own can be fun and easy!

    First, pick a subject. As mentioned previously, limericks are generally concerned with trivial matters, and can even take the form of a short story or description.

    Next, consider the rhyme scheme and structure. Limericks should consist of one five-line stanza with an AABBA rhyme scheme. Think of words that relate to your subject and find some corresponding rhyming words; there should be two distinct rhymes, the "A" rhyme in the first, second and fifth lines, and the "B" rhyme in the third and fourth lines.

    Once you find your rhyming words, form the five lines into sentences, and you will have yourself a limerick poem!

    Limerick Poem - Key takeaways

    • The limerick poem is perhaps the most recognisable poetic form.
    • Limericks are funny and light-hearted in tone.
    • Subject matter is often trivial, sometimes taking the form of a tale or description.
    • Limericks have a strict structure, following an AABBA rhyme scheme, contained in a five-line stanza.
    • The form was popularised in the 19th century by English poet Edward Lear.
    • The limerick has most often been used with crude language for humorous effect, or, equally, with innocent language for nursery rhymes.

    1 Anonymous, The Limerick Packs Laughs Anatomical, internetpoem

    Frequently Asked Questions about Limerick Poem

    How to write a limerick poem?

    A limerick should consist of a single five-line stanza with an AABBA rhyme scheme. Usually, they discuss humorous or trivial topics, and some are even completely nonsensical! 

    What is a limerick poem?

    A limerick is a short, humorous poem, most often offering a pithy tale or description of a trivial subject.

    What are the rules of a limerick poem?

    A limerick must:

    1. Be composed of only a single stanza

    2. Consist of exactly five lines

    3. Contain an "A" rhyme on the first, second and fifth lines

    4. Contain a different "B" rhyme on the third and fourth lines

    What is a limerick poem example?

    An example we can look at is this limerick (about limericks), written by an unknown author:

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

    What are some famous limerick poems?

    We can consider a famous limerick poem by Edward Lear, who is credited with popularising the form:

    There once was a man from Nantucket 

    Who kept all his cash in a bucket. 

    But his daughter, named Nan, 

    Ran away with a man 

    And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the rhyme scheme for limerick poems?

    How many lines should a limerick poem consist of?

    How many stanzas should a limerick poem consist of?

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