Spotlight on Forms: What is a Limerick?

Our last spotlight on forms discussed the popular haiku, a short 17-syllable poem originating in Japan in the 1600s. This week we’ll talk about an equally fun form of poetry, the limerick! Limericks first appeared in the early 18th century and were popularized by King Lear in his first Book of Nonsense published in 1846. Limericks have a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA) and can sometimes be obscene with humorous intent. The limerick’s first line usually introduces a place and a person, with the place at the end of the first line and establishing the “A” part of the rhyme scheme.

Limericks

Limericks are a particularly fun form of poetry due to their humorous and sometimes obscene nature. Ogden Nash is said to have written a fairly obscene, yet hilarious limerick about a pelican.

Origin of the Name “Limerick”

Because King Lear himself did not refer to these unique poems as limericks, there is some debate as to where the name came from. The earliest known use of the term was in a newspaper in 1880. It is generally assumed that it is a reference to the city or county of Limerick in Ireland. It may reference the Maigue Poets or derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse game that traditionally included the line, “Won’t you come up to Limerick?”

Examples of Limericks

Limericks are a particularly fun form of poetry due to their humorous and sometimes obscene nature. Take a look at these examples below!

Ogden Nash is said to have written this fairly obscene, yet hilarious poem about a pelican. Of note, this poet is also said to have coined the phrase, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker!”

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his beli-can.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.

 

This poem is attributed to the father and poet laureate of the limerick poem, King Edward Lear:

There was a young lady of Niger
who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
with the lady inside,
and the smile on the face of the tiger.

 

Take a stab at writing your own limerick! If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!

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