Why is this type of poem called a Limerick?
The origin of the actual name limerick for this type of poem is not really known for sure. Its usage was first documented in England in 1898, in the New English Dictionary. It was also documents in America in 1902, but even then, no one is really sure if it is referring to the poetry form, or the city of Limerick in Ireland. The name may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlor game which traditionally included a refrain that ended “Come all the way up to Limerick?” So, while no one can be certain how the name came about, the fact remains that a limerick is a form of poetry used around the world.
What is the structure of a limerick?
A limerick has five lines, with three metrical feet in the first, second and fifth lines and two metrical feet in the third and fourth lines. The rhyme scheme is usually AABBA.
When you write a limerick you can use whatever type of metrical foot you want, but the most typical are amphibrach and anapaest. Amphibrach is a stressed syllable between two unstressed syllables. Anapaest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable.
How do you construct a limerick?
When you write a limerick each line has a purpose. Traditionally, the first line of a limerick introduces a person and a place, with the place appearing at the end of the first line. So, for example: “There was a young girl from the city.” The place establishes the rhyme scheme for the second and fifth lines. The rest of the poem is then supposed to go on to tell about this person and place with some sort of humor or whit.
When limericks were first written, the last line was often essentially a repeat of the first line, although this is no longer customary. Now, it can be a continuation of the story. Today, ordinary speech stress is often distorted in the first line. This is considered a feature of the limerick form, and can make the poems funny, and fun to read, despite the actual story.
It is common in limericks to exploit geographical names, especially exotic ones, and has been seen as invoking memories of geography lessons as a play on how geography is taught in the school room.
Many limericks additionally show some form of internal rhyme, alliteration or assonance, or some element of wordplay. Some examples exploit the strict form of the limerick to lead the listener into expecting a particular conclusion, particularly one that would be obscene or shocking, and then are funny because they cunningly avoid the expected words and give a different outcome.
Who made limericks famous?
The fact is that generally limericks are funny, so the form quickly became popular because of the not-so-serious nature of the poems. However, limericks were made famous by Edward Lear, a famous author who wrote the “Book of Nonsense” in the 1800s. This was an entire book of silly limericks.
Let’s take a look at an example of a limerick so that you can see what all of the above information really means:
There once was a girl from Kentucky,
Who never was very lucky,
She rode her bike,
Across the pike,
And came home wet and mucky.
Now that you know all about limericks, go and write one of your own.
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