“There was an old fellow named Green …”. Limericks. (Post 23)

There was an old fellow named Green,

Who grew so abnormally lean,

And flat, and compressed,

That his back squeezed his chest,

And sideways he couldn’t be seen.

Although some poetry neither rhymes (see Post 16) nor has a pattern of rhythm (see Post 17), limericks very clearly have both. If you want to practise writing rhythmical rhyming verse, have a go at composing some limericks.

The rules are these:

The poem has five lines, and lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with each other.

Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.

The rhythm is: Dit DAH dit dit DAH dit dit DAH for lines 1, 2 and 5; and Dit DAH dit dit DAH for lines 3 and 4. (There can be an extra weak syllable [dit] in each case if you want – I’ll show you an example later – but the pattern must be the same in lines 1, 2 and 5, and lines 3 and 4 must also match.)

A limerick makes sense by itself – it doesn’t need any scene-setting beforehand, or more than one verse – and limericks are usually (mildly) funny and quite witty.

Many limericks are sexually suggestive; many written some time ago would be considered unacceptable and “not politically correct” nowadays. It took quite some searching before I could find some that were “clean” enough to put on this website! That said, many people still find them wryly amusing.

Here’s an example of a limerick that has an extra (weak) syllable in each line (in fact it has an extra two in line 2, but if you read it rhythmically it works). It also bears the hallmarks (characteristics) of an earlier age than our own, where secretaries were stereotyped as young, beautiful women and bosses as older men!

A cute secretary, none cuter,

Was replaced by a clicking computer.

‘Twas the wife of the boss

Who put this deal across;

You see, the computer was neuter.

Here’s a limerick where the joke is based on physics, which is very unusual!

There once was a spaceman named Wright,

Whose speed was much faster than light.

He set out one day,

In a relative way,

And returned on the previous night.

And here’s a limerick which plays on alliteration – where a sound is repeated at the beginning of words which are close together in a text. It also makes use of the homophones (see Post 19) flea/flee:

A fly and a flea in a flue [A flue is the inside of a chimney]

Were imprisoned, so what could they do?

Said the fly, “Let us flee!”

“Let us fly!” said the flea.

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

No-one has come up with a really satisfactory explanation of why these poems are named after a town in the Republic of Ireland!

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