What is Limerick?

Limerick Structure

Limerick is a kind of poetry that has a unique place in English comic poetry. It consists of five lines, three trimetres (first, second and fifth) and two dimetres (third and fourth), which rhyme according to the AABBA scheme. Rhythm is prominent and somewhat blatant anapaest – two short syllables and one long. The meter is pretty inflexible, so variations are frequent. The first verse usually introduces a person or a place (“There was a …”) and it ends with their name. The theme is diverse and it is primarily linked to human characteristics, morals and customs.

Here’s an example of how Limerick for children should look..

limerickThere was a bold pirate of Boulder
Whose cutlass was slung from his shoulder.
He’d mighty fine notions
Of plundering oceans,
But his mom said: “Perhaps, when you’re older”

Graham Lester

A true limerick has a situation twist, usually in the last verse. It ends in an unusual or incredible rhyming, which provokes laughter, and the contrast can be contained in in a way in which the rhyme is deliberately distorted. Best limericks abound in hyperbole, onomatopoeia, idioms, internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and other figurative means.

Types of limerick poems

They are usually divided into fine (clean) and crude (dirty) limericks. Some of them are limericks for children, others romantic, historic and other. The most popular ones are erotic or political, sardonic and provocative in character, with offensive and vulgar content and streaked with sharp satire and irony. Variations forms are often, eg double Limerick, expanded limerick, clerihew, limeraiku, gimerick, macaronick and others.

The origin and development of Limerick

Limerick has existed for hundreds of years, and its roots are not quite determined. The first collections of limericks in English have been made around 1820. The best known is the collection of Edward LearBook of Nonsense (1846). Some argue that there are some Limericks in the work of Chaucer, Shakespeare (Othello, Tempest), and Dickens.

Many prominent writers have experimented with this form – Roseto, Tennyson, Swinburne, Kipling, Twain, RL Stevenson, Asimov, and today the Internet is a rich and interesting source of modern Limerick. Contests and correspondence are organized in the form of Limerick, and newspaper headlines are regularly connected to this kind of poetry. There are even entire dictionaries in the form of Limerick – OEDILF, The Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form, with over 4500 terms explained in this form.

Limerick poems are written in other languages, Russian, Polish, Italian, and Icelandic. Because the meter is the constraining factor for some languages, such as French, or Latin, German,  more successful examples of this form are produced in languages that have a natural rhythm similar to English, the fact is that in the modern world Limerick is universally attractive for reading and writing, primarily because concision, rhythm and humor.

It is interesting that women are very involved in the creation of Limerick on the Internet, although few of them issued a book or similar. It is possible that the anonymity provided by the Internet frees lascivious female expression.

Using this popular form in teaching, poetry is removed from the pedestal. It destroys the bogey and prejudices about poetry as exalted and unapproachable to the normal man or woman. In this manner, ‘an entrance to the back door’ can be provided into English poetry and poetry in general.