Saturday, 4 September 2010

There was a young lady called...

Continuing in my series on small poems (I covered the smallest poems in the world and haiku in previous posts), I come with some trepidation to the limerick.

According to Wikipedia the limerick is: "a five-line poem in anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (aabba), which intends to be witty or humorous, and is sometimes obscene with humorous intent"
This is not a blog to go in for lengthy scholarly explanations for anything - I leave that to the links. Suffice to say that the name Limerick is thought to have come from a popular tune 'Won't you come up to Limerick' which presumably fitted the rhythm. The form was popularized by Edward Lear but I dislike most of his that I've seen because they are neither clever nor funny (an accusation he may respond to with a curt: 'Nonsense!') For example:

There was a Young Lady of Lucca
Whose lovers completely forsook her;
She ran up a tree
And said: ''Fiddle-de-dee!'
Which embarrassed the people of Lucca.

See what I mean? Yawn! And that was in my battered 1962 copy of the Penguin Book of Comic and Curious Verse, which at least had the good taste to include the anonymous:
There was an old loony of Lyme,
Whose candour was simply sublime;
When they asked: 'Are you there?'
'Yes,' he said, 'but take care,
For I'm never "all  there" at a time.'

I'll come back to the filthy ones in my next post, but my personal favourites are the ones which subvert the form. As with any strict rules in poetry, they are there to be flouted. Here's another anonymous one from the same volume:
There was an old man from Dunoon,
Who always ate soup with a fork,
For he said, 'As I eat
Neither fish, fowl nor flesh,
I should finish my dinner too quick.

And we all know this one, which also appears to be from an unknown author:
There was a young man from Japan
who's limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He said: "It's because
I always try and put as many words in the last line as I possibly can."

You may think the limerick is old hat and poets don't do that anymore, but they are alive and flourishing (the limericks, not the poets... who are merely alive). I'm sure the incorrigible Liverpool (via Kent) poet David Bateman - who still flies the flag for nonsense -won't mind me slipping in a couple from his excellent 'Curse of the Killer Hedge' (Iron Press) collection, one here and a couple in tomorrow's - including probably the world's first rude aardvark poem:

My diction goes wrongly syntaxative
And my wordage is holy intraxative
I think that I fear
I have verbal dire-rear
But it may be I'm merely dyslaxative

And here's one I wrote just for him:
A poet of Liverpool 8
Loved dispute, pedantry and debate
But because he stuttered
Each word that he uttered
Came too low and too fast and too late.

I could go on (and on and on) but I'm going to finish with one from the curious and mercurial Will Type For Food blog:
There once was a woman called - what?
Do you know her name? I've forgot.
Nup. I can't recall
What she did at all,
Which screws this poem up quite a lot.

If you feel inspired to pen your own,  you can find many more general examples here and here
My intention is to continue with filthy ones tomorrow to protect the more sensitive reader, because as we all know:
The limerick is furtive and mean
You must keep her in close quarantine
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.


  1. When old brokenbiro did write
    It was to her followers' delight
    Her pen, it was magic
    And it would be tragic
    If she disappeared from sight.

  2. Now we know that Fran's just 'Being Me'
    And she's witty and quite luvverly
    But she called Biro 'old'
    So she had to be told
    Or the rumours would circulate free!

  3. I did my share of Limerick Comments earlier this week, so went for a straight forward daft one here, instead...

    A limerick writer from Bude
    was averse to anything lewd
    but the rhymes did not come
    till he sat on his bum,
    then realise that word was rude!

  4. I wouldn't dare to comment poetically...

    (I leave your readers to finish the last four lines)

  5. LOL. I'll be passing by tomorrow! And I'll get the LSO to read your post - he limmericks.

  6. 'Old' as in 'affectionate' of course ... what on earth do you THINK I meant?