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What do you know about limericks? Most people have heard at least the first line of the infamous 1902 Princeton Tiger rhyme:
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.
There are quite a few poems beginning with that first line, but many are more adult in nature (if you know what I mean), so I’ll let you search for them on your own!
Though the origin of the name is debated, limericks are fun to read aloud and easy to write once you get the hang of the meter and rhyme. (In poetry, “meter” is the beat of the lines.) Generally assumed to be a reference to the County or City of Limerick, Ireland, this form of poetry uses an AABBA rhyme scheme: the first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme, and the third and fourth lines rhyme but do not rhyme with the other lines. In the example above, the A rhymes are: Nantucket, bucket, and Nantucket, the last of which is also a play on words. The B rhymes are Nan and man.
The meter—the beat of the poem—is anapestic; it usually sounds like ta ta TUM ta ta TUM (and so on) when read aloud. Here’s a limerick that also explains how to write a limerick!
Writing a Limerick’s absurd,
Line one and line five rhyme in word,
And just as you’ve reckoned
They rhyme with the second;
The fourth line must rhyme with the third.
One of the fun things about limericks, though, is that the meter can be subverted. For example:
There was a young man of Japan
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He replied “It’s because
I always try to fit as many syllables into the last line as ever I possibly can.”
Another great thing about limericks is that they don’t have to be serious or romantic… or even good! They’re intended to be humorous and sometimes obscene, so next time you head to a party, take some trusty limericks with you and impress the ladies and gentlemen. If you want to try your hand at writing a limerick in the comments below, I would love to read what you can come up with. May 12 is Limerick Day, so get writing!