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Jan's Poetry Class--LIMERICK

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 4:45 pm
by glorybee
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 and meter 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?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 7:14 pm
by yvonblake
I suppose I ought to be a good example by writing one of my own.


I sit here so late in the night,
Speed typing with all of my might;
To write fifty K words
Will define me absurd,
But NaNo gives me no respite.


The last line doesn't include a pun. (That's the hard part for me.) You can tell what's on my mind right now. I'll try to come up with another one later.

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 7:25 pm
by glorybee
And here's one that my daughter Jericho wrote for her sister (and her niece...)

There once was a baby named Piper
Who made a big mess in her diaper
But Meg doesn't care
And she has time to spare
'Cause Tony's the resident wiper!

Let's double check the 8 criteria with this limerick:

1. 5 lines--check
couplet within a triplet--check

2. rhyme scheme (aabba)--check. The (a) rhymes are Piper, diaper, and wiper--the (b) rhymes are care and spare

3. 8 or 9 syllables in lines 1, 2, 5--check (they each have 9)

4. 5 or 6 syllables in lines 3 and 4--check (5 and 6, respectively)

5. meter--check, kind of. There's a sort of "pickup beat" at the beginning of line 4. That's okay.

6. First line introduces a character, using familiar structure--check

7. Lines 1 and 5 ending with same word--no, but that one's optional

8. A pun in the last line--not really a pun, but hopefully a chuckle.

I give this one a B+. Would love to see one from each of you!

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 7:27 pm
by glorybee
yvonne wrote:I sit here so late in the night,
Speed typing with all of my might;
To write fifty K words
Will define me absurd,
But NaNo gives me no respite.


This is cute, Vonnie! And by the way, thanks for your input on this class. Since you contributed so much, I'll let you off the hook with writing a "traditional" limerick--and also because you've got NaNo on your mind!

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 8:20 pm
by Esther
Here is a dreadful first attempt. I'll try to think of something better and put it in later.

There once was a writer at lunch,
All the food she quite forgot to crunch
Her mind was away
On a limerick fray
Couldn't find a last line with a punch.

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 8:22 pm
by Esther
Here's one my daughter said her teacher told her when they were learning about limericks in class.

There once was a man from Peru
Who's limerick ended line two.

:lol:

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:06 pm
by glorybee
Esther wrote:Here's one my daughter said her teacher told her when they were learning about limericks in class.

There once was a man from Peru
Who's limerick ended line two.

:lol:


This gave me today's best laugh!

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:10 pm
by CatLin
While I work on my own homework, here's one I hear at the beach:
(warning: rated PG)


A marvelous bird is the pelican
His mouth can hold more than his belly can
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week
And I don't know how in the h--- he can

I haven't counted the syllables, but it sounds like a limerick to me. :D

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:12 pm
by glorybee
Esther wrote:Here is a dreadful first attempt. I'll try to think of something better and put it in later.

There once was a writer at lunch,
All the food she quite forgot to crunch
Her mind was away
On a limerick fray
Couldn't find a last line with a punch.


Esther, this certainly isn't dreadful! I especially like your last line, which actually does have a fun punch to it.

Could we look at the meter of line two? If I were to emphasize the stressed and unstressed syllables, it'd look something like this:

all the FOOD she quite for GOT to CRUNCH

If you read that aloud, you'll see that it doesn't really fit the pattern of a traditional limerick. But if you read it with the right stressed/unstressed pattern, it'd sound like this:

all the FOOD she quite FOR got to CRUNCH

Well, that's not right, either, putting the emphasis on the first syllable of "forgot".

What about this slight variation:

all the FOOD she'd for GOT ten to CRUNCH

What do you think?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 10:16 pm
by glorybee
CatLin wrote:While I work on my own homework, here's one I hear at the beach:
(warning: rated PG)


A marvelous bird is the pelican
His mouth can hold more than his belly can
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week
And I don't know how in the h--- he can

I haven't counted the syllables, but it sounds like a limerick to me. :D


Cat, it's so funny!

And it shows how the limerick form is pretty flexible. Your longer 3 lines have 10 syllables each, yet it still works.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 2:20 am
by Esther
glorybee wrote:
Esther wrote:Here is a dreadful first attempt. I'll try to think of something better and put it in later.

There once was a writer at lunch,
All the food she quite forgot to crunch
Her mind was away
On a limerick fray
Couldn't find a last line with a punch.


Esther, this certainly isn't dreadful! I especially like your last line, which actually does have a fun punch to it.

Could we look at the meter of line two? If I were to emphasize the stressed and unstressed syllables, it'd look something like this:

all the FOOD she quite for GOT to CRUNCH

If you read that aloud, you'll see that it doesn't really fit the pattern of a traditional limerick. But if you read it with the right stressed/unstressed pattern, it'd sound like this:

all the FOOD she quite FOR got to CRUNCH

Well, that's not right, either, putting the emphasis on the first syllable of "forgot".

What about this slight variation:

all the FOOD she'd for GOT ten to CRUNCH

What do you think?


This line does sound much better. Thanks for your comments.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 4:17 am
by GShuler
First, traditional:

A gallant old gent from Jafar
Desired to buy a new car.
He had money enough
Although counting was tough...
It was pennies in ten thousand jars.

Now a non-traditional one that I wrote years ago:

At Limericks my talent is fine,
I write them each night as I dine...
But it seems rather poor
That right after line four
It never fails that I get too many words in the last line.

My brother, his sur-name is Mort
Gives a totally different report.
His rhymes would be fine
But his very last line
Is short.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 7:07 am
by glorybee
Gerald, these went from funny to funnier! More, please!

PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:56 am
by swfdoc1
glorybee wrote:
CatLin wrote:While I work on my own homework, here's one I hear at the beach:
(warning: rated PG)


A marvelous bird is the pelican
His mouth can hold more than his belly can
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week
And I don't know how in the h--- he can

I haven't counted the syllables, but it sounds like a limerick to me. :D



Cat, it's so funny!

And it shows how the limerick form is pretty flexible. Your longer 3 lines have 10 syllables each, yet it still works.


This is a fairly faithful version of one of the most famous (clean) limericks. It's by a guy named Dixon Lanier Merritt although I've seen it incorrectly attributed to both Ogden Nash and Edward Lear. The original had extra syllables, too.

Here's mine. I tried for a pun/play on words at the end:

There once was a man from Nantucket.
Whenever he saw corn, he’d shuck it.
If ‘twas still on the stalk
From shucking he’d not balk
He’d shuck after he’d nipped and tuck it.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2009 3:45 pm
by glorybee
There once was a man from Nantucket.
Whenever he saw corn, he’d shuck it.
If ‘twas still on the stalk
From shucking he’d not balk
He’d shuck after he’d nipped and tuck it.


Clever, Steve! I like how you took a "given" first line, and gave it your own unique twist. And your pun was a definite groaner--the defining characteristic of a good pun.