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The limerick

Just like the cinquain, the limerick is a poem consisting of five lines. That's . . . pretty much all they have in common, really, though I suppose one can pull back far enough to say they have a certain number of stressed syllables required per line. Whereas the cinquain can cover any sort of subject matter, the limerick is nearly always used for comedic purposes. And these days, often for naughty (or filthy or even disgusting) content.

These have been in existence since at least the early 1800s, but became popularized in the work of Edward Lear mid-century (1840s onward). Historically, they were all about people, and began by introducing the person and where they were from. E.g., "There was a young man from Brazil" or "There was an old lady from Perth" (for all I know, those are the starts to actual limericks, but I didn't look it up). They tended to end with an echo or repetition of the first line, such as "That crazy young man from Brazil" or "That little old lady from Perth."

Over the course of time, humor shifted; some might say evolved, but I'm not certain that's actually the case. At any rate, these days, most poems end in some sort of punchline. For example, here's one I found among my grandfather's papers after his death:

There was a young lady from Lynn
Who though that to love was a sin
But when she was tight
It seemed quite alright
So everyone filled her with gin.

The form requirements of a limerick

1. Five lines
2. The first line introduces the topic
3. Lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with one another, and contain three stressed syllables
4. Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with one another, and contain two stressed syllables
5. Overall, the poem falls into an anapestic meter, although it may contain more than anapests*.

*An anapest is a three-syllable poetic foot consisting of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one. Think ta-da-DUM ta-da-DUM ta-da-DUM. (E.g., Clement C. Moore's "Twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas and ALL through the HOUSE"). Though note that the above example involving the young lady from Lynn has lines consisting of an iamb (ta-DUM) followed by either two or one anapests (ta-da-DUM), depending on whether it's a long or short line.

For those of you who write for children, please know that this form can still work for kids. Take, for instance, this clever one by J. Patrick Lewis, from his collection, Countdown to Summer. Pat has gone ahead and given the poem a short title, which is a slight departure from usual limerick practice, but this was from a series of short poems entitled "limb-ericks":

The Hump
by J. Patrick Lewis

In the desert a camel was minus
A passenger, His Royal Highness.
The King loved the humps
But the bumpety-bumps
Left him down in the dumps and the dryness.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 2nd, 2016 05:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the limerick post. Let's see if I can get a decent new one written. It'll be fun trying, regardless.
May. 4th, 2016 04:09 pm (UTC)
This post was just for you!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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