Limericks – the other kind.

A limerick is a form of poetry, especially one consisting of five-lines, predominantly in an anapestic meter with a strict rhyming scheme (AABBA), often with humorous intent. The first, second and fifth lines are usually longer than the third and fourth, moreover the first line traditionally introduces a person and/or a place; the place appearing at the end of the first line and establishing the rhyme scheme for the second and fifth lines. In early limericks, the last line was often essentially a repeat of the first, however this is no longer customary. The oldest attested text in this form is a Latin prayer by Tommaso d’Aquino from the 13th century but the form did not appear in England until the early years of the 18th century. In the 19th century it was popularised by the artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, Edward Lear, although he did not use the term limerick for his humorous poems.

Writing a limerick is not a complicated thing, simple some might say. However a limerick that has a first line ending in alison or limerick (or Hackney as sometimes happened when I used to live there), tends to leave the prospective rhymer floundering and in search of phrases that adhere to the constraints of the idiom while also making sense. Even fellows who have had time to prepare their ‘witty’ rhymes before an encounter, find – to their embarrassment and mine – that their clever poem, penned and memorised the night before, sounds awful in the cold light of day. It is no doubt something that all the Limericks of the world have had to face at some time in their lives (school years will have brought an unending stream of idiotic poems to British children who bear the weight of that ‘handle’) but I do so wish I had been brave enough – when it happened – to reply . . .

Please know, and I say this politely,

that if you are going to write me

a derisible rhyme

that is clearly crime,

my reply won’t be thank you but bite me!

Posted on: 19th October 2015