Limericks are far too short to be used as challenge entries, but as I’ll show you later on, there are solutions to that little problem. But learning to write a good limerick will also help you to develop other poetic muscles; that’s a good thing, right?
For this week, I’ve got a co-teacher--Vonnie Blake, who taught limericks for many years in a Christian elementary school. What you have before you now is a melding of our two lessons.
Here we go, then! Limericks were supposedly invented in the Irish town of Limerick in the 1700s. They are easy to create and lots of fun. They have a reputation of sometimes being crude, but they don’t need to be. But be careful if you go searching online for examples of limericks. Historically, they’ve become famous for their naughtiness, and many that you’ll find online are just plain dirty. A limerick is a humorous (often absurd) poem with the following characteristics:
1. It has 5 lines—a couplet within a triplet
2. The rhyme scheme is (aabba)
3. Lines 1, 2, and 5 generally have 8 or 9 syllables
4. Lines 3 and 4 generally have 5 or 6 syllables
5. Most often, the lines have this pattern: unstressed/STRESSED/unstressed/unstressed/STRESSED/unstressed/unstressed/ STRESSED
6. The first line often introduces a character, and sometimes a location: common formats are “There was a young woman from…” or “There once was a fellow from…” or “A lady named Sally who…”
7. Lines 1 and 5 may end with the same word
8. Often limericks include a pun in the last line, which hopefully leaves the reader with a smile.
Okay, that seems like a lot of rules for a form that’s essentially pretty simple. Here are a few examples of clean, published limericks. Edward Lear is known for his limericks; here’s one you might have heard.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.
Here’s an anonymous one, from Norton’s Anthology: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.
One more by Edward Lear. This one has homophones and alliteration: A flea and a fly in a flue
Were caught, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “Let us flee”
“Let us fly,” said the flea.
So they flew through the flaw in the flue.
So…why master limericks?
1. Go back to my rule #5: that pattern of meter isn’t often found here in the Writing Challenge, and it’s a welcome relief to the typical unstressed/STRESSED pattern we get in most rhymed poems. I’ve heard the latter referred to as “sing-song”, and it’s true that especially in long poems, the reader can weary of dah DAH dah DAH dah DAH dah DAH. Learning how to write in new meters is an important poetic skill.
2. This one bears repeating—if you’re a poet, you should know poetry. All forms, even the silly ones.
3. Even though a limerick is too short for a challenge entry, you can string several of them together in an entry. I did this for the “Enter” topic, in a poem called The Psalmist at the Gate
Note that I used the rhyme
of the limerick, but not the humor, etc.
That’s what you can do, too!
By the way, if you know the old hymn “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”—you can sing most limericks to that tune, although you may have to bunch up a few syllables in lines 3 and 4. But if you need help with the meter, try that song. It might do the trick.Homework: Write a limerick, following ALL of the characteristics of a limerick listed above. When writing a limerick, don’t forget to put a punch in the last line.
IF you write one “conventional” limerick, you may also try one that breaks a few of the rules: perhaps an inspirational poem, or a seasonal one…you decide. BUT I’d like you to retain the most important limerick traits—the rhyme scheme and the meter.
Comments? Questions? What was easy/difficult for you? Anything else you’d like to say about limericks specifically, or any of the other lessons to date?