History Of The Limerick, Famous Limericks, Tips For Composing, & More On National Limerick Day

Ireland gave us Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and some of the world’s best folklore. However, is it true that the limerick, a poetic form, derives from the beloved Irish city, Limerick?

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Limerick, Ireland is a populous city and the name of the famous form. Solo stanza and five lines of AABBA rhyme scheme, the earliest version dates back to 18th century England. By the 20th century, limericks were widespread, thanks to Edward Lear and W.S. Gilbert who popularized the form.

Limericks are known to take a comical or vulgar role. Their petite structure and silly scenarios also creates controversy in that limericks are for untalented poets. Knowing this, Edward Lear considered them nonsense and published a book of over 100 limericks titled, “A Book of Nonsense” in 1846. Here’s a few:

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There was a Young Lady of Russia,
Who screamed so that no one could hush her;
Her screams were extreme,
No one heard such a scream,
As was screamed by that lady of Russia.

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 was an Old Man who said,
‘Hush! I perceive a young bird in this bush!’
When they said, ‘Is it small?’
He replied, ‘Not at all!
It is four times as big as the bush!’


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Limerick Fun Fact:

National Limerick Day is May 12th and Edward Lear was born May 12th, 1812 in Holloway, Middlesex, England.

Many nursery rhymes follow limerick parameters, or at least do so relatively closely. Rhyme schemes in children’s stories may not fully fulfill AABBA pattern, feature five lines, and are a single stanza, but nursery rhymes are comparable and feature similarities regardless. Hickory Dickory Dock and Humpty Dumpty are just two examples.

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Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
   The clock struck one,
 The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
  Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
  All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men
  Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Since today is National Limerick Day, it only makes sense to dedicate a portion of this post for tips on composing unforgettable limericks and channeling our inner Edward Lear.

Tip #1: When Edward Lear wrote limericks, sketches often accompanied them. The drawings brought the comical attitudes to life. While writing your limerick, imagine the dramatized sketch. What would your limerick look like in physical form? This visual may help push your poem toward a more silly personality. What would a limerick be without something peculiar?

Tip #2: Aim to not overthink. Limericks are short and their level of logic is minimal. Have fun with composing limericks and avoid pressure to sound like an intelligent and sophisticated writer.

Tip #3: While limericks rank low in sense, as a writer you still have a story to communicate. There is a type of character and a miniature plot that begins and wraps up in a speedy manner. Using purposeful word choice is key and it may take a few rounds of editing to arrive there.

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