Limerick

A limerick is a humorous poem that follows a fixed structure of five lines and a rhyme scheme of AABBA. Limericks are often entertaining, suggestive, and rude.

Facts About Limericks

  • The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, and the third and fourth rhyme.
  • The first lines usually set up a punchline at the end of the poem.
  • The best-known example starts with “There once was a man from Nantucket.”
  • In traditional limericks, the poet repeats the first line at the end of the poem.
  • The first lines of a limerick usually introduce a person or place and the following describes what the person did or what happened there.
  • Anapestic trimeter and anapestic dimeter are sometimes used.


History of the Limerick

Limericks date back to the 18th-century. Some of the first, and the best-loved, belonged to Edward Lear. They appeared in his 1846 volume, A Book of Nonsense. He wrote a total of 212 limericks over his life, most of which are examples of nonsense verse. This means that they used coined words, strange and unusual images, and made-up characters, places, and events. These features can be seen in the following examples.

Limerick Example #1

There Was an Old Man in a Tree by Edward Lear

This limerick is a great example of Lear’s poetry. It uses the traditional rhyme scheme of AABBA and includes some of the humor that the form is known for. Here is the poem:

There was an Old Man in a tree,

Who was horribly bored by a bee;

When they said, “Does it buzz?”

He replied, “Yes, it does!

It’s a regular brute of a bee!”

The poem is funny, uses other literary devices like alliteration and repetition to make it interesting to read, and includes an unusual interaction. These features all characterize limericks and nonsense verse.

Limerick Examples #2

There was a Young Belle of Old Natchez by Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash is a famed children’s author who has written a few limericks. ‘There was a Young Belle of Old Natchez’ uses the AABBA rhyme scheme and nonsense language. The imagery and the words themselves are meant to entertain. Here is the poem:

There was a young belle of old Natchez

Who ripped all her garments to patchez

When comment arose

On the state of her clothes

She drawled, When Ah itches, Ah scratchez.

Readers are meant to find pleasure in the sound of the words, the perfect way they rhyme with one another, and the content itself.

Other Limericks to Explore

  • ‘There once was a man from Nantucket’ by Dayton Voorhees
  • There was an Old Man with a beard’ by Edward Lear
  • ‘There was a Young Lady whose bonnet’ by Edward Lear
  • There was a young lady of station’ by Lewis Carroll
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