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Limerick Poem

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!

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

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! 

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

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

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.

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.

Final Limerick Poem Quiz

Question

What tone do limericks usually take?

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Answer

Comical and humorous

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Question

Who is credited with popularising the limerick poetic form?

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Answer

Edward Lear

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Question

What genre of literature is Edward Lear most associated with?

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Answer

Literary nonsense

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme for limerick poems?

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Answer

AABBA

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Question

How many lines should a limerick poem consist of?

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Answer

5

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Question

How many stanzas should a limerick poem consist of?

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Answer

1

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Question

Where does the term 'limerick' originate from?

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Answer

An old poem titled "Won't You Come to Limerick?"

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Question

From which country do limerick poems originate?

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Answer

England

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Question

For what effect can repetition be used in limerick poems?

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Answer

For conclusion, for emphasis, or for both

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Question

When was the famous limerick about the man from Nantucket published?

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Answer

1902

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Question

What is the name of Edward Lear's collection of limericks?

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Answer

A Book of Nonsense

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Question

Why is the limerick form suitable for nursery ryhmes?

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Answer

Limericks have a sing-song quality that is perfect for children. Further, limericks often discuss trivial topics, which are especially common in nursery rhymes.

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Question

What is an example of a nursery rhyme in limerick form?

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Answer

'Hickory Dickory Dock'

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Question

In which publication was the limerick about the man from Nantucket published?

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Answer

The Princeton Tiger college humour magazine

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Question

What is the first step to writing your own limerick?

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Answer

Choosing a subject. It should be trivial or humurous. 

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