Friday, May 19, 2017


The twelfth day of May each year is Limerick Day. Why? Because it is the birthday of Edward Lear, the poet and artist who perfected the form of this jaunty, sometimes naughty, type of poem. Scholars say that the name “limerick” was given to the form because Irish Soldiers, home from France where they were serving in the 1700’s, brought back to Limerick a song with a chorus that followed the AABBA rhyme scheme such as in this one from an unknown writer:

A bather whose clothing was strewed   A
By winds that left her quite nude A
Saw a man come along B
And unless we are wrong B
You expected this line to be lewd. A

This modern limerick from author Gary Johnson follows that pattern:

There was an old lady of Queens
Who survived on wieners and beans
Wearing Army surplus
Riding the bus
And stealing from vending machines

There’s a set pattern to the usual number of syllables in each of the five lines of the poem, and to the content of the lines. The first two lines set the scene, the second two tell you what happened, and the last line is “the kicker.”  This one, one of the most widely known, is by “Anonymous”

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the Tiger.

This one, also from the prolific “Anonymous,” has a punny ending:

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

The Nantucket limerick has spawned many more versions, both funny and lewd. Lear’s limericks were not naughty at all. He created them for children. One of twenty-one children himself, an older sister taught him to draw and paint. He became a drawing teacher, and an illustrator. The London Zoological Society hired him to paint a series of paintings of birds, which he insisted he had to paint from life, not stuffed specimens. Impressed with his work, the Earl of Derby hired him to paint pictures of the animals in his private menagerie. While doing the work and living at Knowsley Hall, the earl’s ancestral home, he befriended the earl’s grandchildren. For them he wrote poems like The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and limericks and other nonsense verse. His limericks are collected in one volume, his Book of Nonsense.

There was an Old Person of Mold,
Who shrank from sensations of cold,
So he purchased some muffs,
Some furs and some fluffs,
And wrapped himself from the cold.

There was an Old Lady whose folly,
Induced her to sit on a holly;
Whereon by a thorn,
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.

No comments:

Post a Comment