Limerick #Irish #Form #Poetry

Edward Lear_Limerick Sketch
Edward Lear Limerick Sketch (Creative Commons)

Most poets are familiar with the Limerick poetic form. It is a five-line stanza with a distinct aabba rhyming scheme. That is the first, second and final lines all rhyme, contrasted with the third and fourth lines that utilize a different rhyme.

The content of the poem is usually humorous or playful, and frequently rude or obscene. The “purpose” of the form (if there ever was such a thing for literary construct) was to “violate” the taboo, going over the line to invoke a reaction, sometimes to offend and other times to draw attention to a social problem, cultural hypocrisy, or something else of the like.

Traditionally, the first line introduces a person and place, and sets up the rhyme for most of the rest of the poem. The more obscene and sophomoric poetry produced with the limerick form I will spare you. However, I believe both the whimsical and playful sounds and rhyme scheme make for a “fun” form to experiment with. Even if you are “new” to poetry, the limerick is a rewarding form to try as you learn to find rhymes and tell a concise “story” in poetry.

There is much “room” to experiment and break free from the form’s seedy past and push the limits just like the British wordplay and recreational mathematics expert, Leigh Mercer (1893-1977), did with this “mathematical” limerick:

Mathematical Limerick

which translates to:

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
   Divided by seven
   Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more

Leigh Mercer, Published in Word Ways, 13, 1, (February 1980)

The poem above was retrieved from the website, Math Mayhem on Lock Haven University’s school website in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. More math limericks can be found here.

Other “Gimmick Limericks,” as Maxey Brooke refers to them, can be found in the Word Ways issue that published Mercer’s limerick above.


– Jason


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