Limericks probably get their name from the old custom of each person at a party being required
to sing a nonsense verse off the top of their head followed by the chorus which included "Will
you come up to Limerick?"
There was a young lady of Lynn
Who was so excessively thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in.
Though light and humorous in nature, Limericks can be more difficult to write than they at first
appear to be and do require definite poetic skill. Limericks usually come in two forms: a five-line
stanza, as in the above example, or a four-line form. Traditionally, the first and fifth lines ended
in the same word, as in this anonymous example:
This practice, however, is less common, though the effect is more striking if it can be pulled off.
Regardless, the rhyme scheme is still aabba:
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.
The other form is a four-line stanza, though the only real difference is typographical. The 3rd and
4th lines are combined, but the now internal rhyme is kept. Here are two examples from the undisputed
master of the Limerick, Edward Lear:
Notice that the first example uses the more traditional ending, while the second one doesn't.A
limerick is a very structured poem that can be categorized as "short but sweet." They are usually
humorous, and are composed of 5 lines, in an a. a. c. c. a. rhyming pattern.
In addition, the first, second and fifth lines are usually 3 anapestic feet (uu/, 2 unstressed
followed by 1 stressed) each. The third and fourth lines are usually 2 anapestic feet.
An average limerick would be similar to this:
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!"
There was an old man who supposed,
That the street door was partially closed;
But some very large rats, ate his coats and his hats,
While that futile old gentleman dozed.
There once was a princess named Rose,
And where she is now, no one knows.
It is rumored she fled,
Or at least, so it's said,
From a prince with a very long nose.