More on poetic forms. The limerick was always one of the forms my students could most easily identify with, nearly all of them familiar with that universal dirty limerick about the old man from Nantucket. The form is simple: five lines rhyming in an “A-A-B-B-A” pattern, lines one, two, and five having three feet of anapestic rhythm (like a galloping horse, as I used to tell my students), lines three and four only two feet. The first foot of all five lines often have only two syllables instead of three. The first line traditionally refers to some person, often starting with “There was a somebody from Blank,” or “There once was a fellow from Blank.” Limericks are characterized by humor, linguistic cleverness, and very often bawdiness. I give you some of the clean ones, leaving the dirty ones to your imagination.
A Laugh-Load of Limericks
The Limerick packs laughs anatomical,
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
I sat next the Duchess at Tea.
It was just as I feared it would be:
Her rumblings internal
Were simply infernal,
And everyone thought it was me.
There was a young lady of Lynn
Who was so uncommonly thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in.
A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”
There was a young maid who said, “Why
Can‘t I look in my ear with my eye?
If I put my mind to it,
I’m sure I can do it.
You never can tell till you try.”
There was a young woman named Bright,
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.
There was an old man from Peru
Who dreamt he was eating his shoe.
He awoke in the night
In a terrible fright,
And found it was perfectly true!
A decrepit old gas man named Peter,
While hunting around for the meter,
Touched a leak with his light.
He arose out of sight,
And, as anyone can see by reading this he also destroyed the meter.
There once was a man from Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
Asked why it was so
He replied, “I don’t know.
It’s just that I try to get as many syllables into the last line as ever I possibly can.”
It took me some time to agree
To appear in a film about me
And my various ex-wives
Detailing our sex lives,
But I did—and they rated it G. (John Ciardi)
An amorous M.A.
Said of Cupid, the C.D.
“From their prodigal use,
He is, I deduce,
The John Jacob A.H.”
A Lady from way down in Ga.
Became quite a notable fa.
But she faded from view
With a quaint I.O.U.
When she signed it, “Miss Lucrezia Ba.”
An amorous fellow named Sweeney
Accidentally spilled gin on his weenie.
Though it may sound uncouth,
He poured on some vermouth,
And then offered his date a martini.