There aren’t many facts about limericks,
Those brief rhymes we make up for brief kicks.
But to my dismay,
It’s Limerick Day
So here are some facts about limericks.
Nobody knows why it’s called a limerick.
The form arose in England in the 18th century and was popularized by English poet Edward Lear in the 19th century, but not even Lear used the term “limerick.” Some time after his death, Irish poet W.B. Yeats and other figures of the Irish Literary Revival applied the term to the genre, supposedly as a reference to the Maigue Poets, a circle of 18th century Gaelic poets based in County Limerick, Ireland who would frequently meet to discuss poetry and read aloud freshly composed poems. But it’s all speculation.
You can use a limerick to poke fun at anything.
You simply need to write it within the following structure:
- Five lines arranged in one stanza.
- Follow an anapestic rhythm, or two unstressed syllables followed by a third stressed syllable.
- 1st, 2nd, and 5th lines must rhyme and each have three anapests.
- 3rd and 4th lines must rhyme and each have two anapests.
Whether you’re making it clean or bawdy, just make sure it’s absurd.
Even Shakespeare wrote one.
It’s that drinking song Iago sings 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.”
The oldest limerick is thought to have been written by St. Thomas Aquinas.
That is, if a limerick is simply a five-line poem with an A-A-B-B-A rhyme scheme. The “limerick” in question goes like this:
Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.
St. Aquinas’s 13th century religious poem may not have been the very first to use A-A-B-B-A, but it’s apparently the oldest example that exists in writing.
You can use math to write a limerick.
Or at least, you can try to do what noted British wordplay and recreational mathematics expert Leigh Mercer did. Mercer supposedly wrote the following mathematical limerick:
Decoded, it reads:
A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.
Our authors have written whole books on limericks, so be sure to check those out.
Will you be writing a limerick today?