limerick blog post image

Words have the power to transport us to whole new worlds and influence our emotions: we can convey serious ideas and stir up sorrow in our readers’ hearts, but we can also use them to write silly, nonsensical stuff to make others laugh.  

A limerick is one form of writing that focuses on humor. This type of poem is lighthearted and designed to evoke a few giggles.

What Is a Limerick? 

A limerick is a single-stanza poem made of five lines, written in a humorous way. Sometimes the humor may be clean, but other times it can border on obscene. 

Limericks date back to the Middle Ages, but no one really knows the origin of the name. Some people think the name is linked to the Irish city of Limerick, but this seems unlikely, as the poems have been traced back to England and not Ireland. 

A possible origin is an old tune entitled “Won’t You Come to Limerick?” which used the pattern that is typical of this poem.

Structure of a Limerick

Most classic limericks feature an AABBA rhyme pattern and use the anapest meter, which means that each line follows the pattern of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable.

But the structure may also vary, as some limericks are written in amphibrachic meter, or an unstressed-stressed-unstressed pattern.

How to Write a Limerick 

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

If you want to pen your own limerick, we’ve listed some steps to help you. You may choose to strictly follow the anapest meter, but it’s not really necessary, so these steps will skip that aspect: 

1. Choose your subject. 

Start by choosing the name of a person, place, or thing. A very common opening for limericks is “There was a…”. Although this isn’t a requirement, it may be a good way to start, especially if you’re just beginning.

2. Start describing your subject.

In your first and second lines, you should start describing your subject. These lines should also rhyme.

If you are not good at finding rhymes, consult a rhyming dictionary. Alternatively, you can look up word families, such as CVC words, to help you find words to put a the end of your lines. 

Example:

There was a cranky toddler by the name of Peter

Who liked to have everything, except a shower

3. Continue your description in the third and fourth lines. 

Because limericks are intended to be funny, decide which lines should contain the humor or silliness. Sometimes it may work to be a bit serious at first, so you can turn the reader’s expectation on its head. 

The third and fourth lines are usually shorter than the second line, in order to create rhythm. Also, make sure the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.

Example:

When his mother called him 
She’d be sure not to find him 

4. Add your concluding line. 

Finally, add your concluding line, making it rhyme with the first and second lines. 

Example:

To distract her, he’d come in with a flower.  

Demonstration: Writing a Limerick

Now that we’ve reviewed all the steps to writing a limerick, let’s put them together and see how our funny poem turns out:

There was a cranky toddler by the name of Peter 
Who liked to have everything, except a shower 
When his mother called him 
She’d be sure not to find him 
To distract her, he’d come in with a flower.  

Now, this works in terms of the five lines and the rhyme scheme, but it feels a bit lacking in humor and silliness.

Let’s try to make it a little funnier:

There was a cranky toddler by the name of Peter 
Who liked to boss his older brothers and sister
When Mama told him to tidy his room 
He’d kick and scream, and throw away the broom 
And Mama would give him the biggest spanking ever. 

Examples of Limericks

Because many writers have tried their hand at writing limericks, we have a few examples from literature that have been written by experts: 

Example #1. Hickory-Dickory Dock 

This children’s nursery rhyme is actually a limerick. It meets the 5-line requirement, has the appropriate rhyme scheme, and is humorous:

Hickory-dickory-dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory-dickory-dock

Example #2. There Was an Old Many with a Beard by Edward Lear

Photo by Mathias Konrath on Unsplash

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!

Example #3. There once was a man from Nantucket

This limerick comes in many versions. The earliest published version was written in 1902 by Professor Dayton Voorhees: 

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.

Who Is One of the Most Famous Writers of Limericks? 

One of the most famous limerick writers was Edward Lear, who published this form of poetry in A Book of Nonsense back in 1846. He is considered the father of limericks, although it is believed that he referred to these poems as “nonsense” rather than limericks.

Later on, limericks rose in popularity, as many other poets—including the likes of Rudyard Kipling, William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Alfred Lord Tennyson—began to try them out.

It’s interesting to note that the earliest recorded limericks were mostly connected to drinking, perhaps because when people were drinking, they tended to sing funny or obscene poems and songs. Shakespeare himself includes a limerick as Stephano’s drinking song in Othello

“And let me the canakin clink, clink;
And let me the canakin clink
A soldier’s a man;
A life’s but a span;
Why, then, let a soldier drink.”

This helps to create a lighthearted, nonsensical feel for the scene. 

Writing Limericks

If you want to get better at creating rhymes, practicing with limericks is a great way to start. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get!

Writing these short and creative poems can be a fun pastime and a great brain exercise. The fact that it needs to be humorous will also challenge you to look for the funny side in a situation, which could be a good way to relax.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

 

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like: