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A brief history of the limerick

A brief history of the limerick: why the humorous poem is so popular

Friday 12 May 2023

Often characterised by wit, humour, and rhythmic charm, limericks have tickled our literary taste buds for centuries. Join us on this whimsical journey as we uncover the captivating history of the limerick and delve into its infectious spirit of mirthful storytelling.

The origins: a mysterious birth
Like the mischievous twinkle in a poet's eye, the origins of the limerick are shrouded in mystery. Some trace its lineage back to the beautiful land of Ireland, while others believe it found its humble beginnings in the taverns of old England. Regardless of its precise birthplace, the limerick's infectious nature soon spread like wildfire, captivating hearts and leaving laughter in its wake.

A quintessentially limerick structure
One cannot speak of limericks without addressing their distinctive structure. These playful verses typically consist of five lines, arranged in an AABBA rhyme scheme. The first, second, and fifth lines are longer, with a bouncy rhythm, while the third and fourth lines act as a humorous twist, delivering the punchline that leaves us grinning from ear to ear.

Limerick in literary lore
Throughout history, the limerick has nestled itself into the hearts of many esteemed poets and writers. One of the pioneers of limerick's popularity was Edward Lear, whose "Book of Nonsense" brought these witty verses to the forefront of children's literature in the 19th century. Lear's imaginative tales and clever wordplay established limericks as a beloved art form that transcended generations.

The limerick's enduring appeal
What makes the limerick so universally appealing? It's the combination of brevity, playfulness, and irreverent humour that captures our attention. Limericks are the embodiment of wit and wordplay, delivering clever punchlines and unexpected twists that leave us chuckling long after the verse concludes. They're a reminder that poetry need not always be serious and solemn; it can be joyous, whimsical, and full of life.

Limericks in popular culture
Limericks have found their way into the fabric of popular culture, injecting moments of laughter and levity into our daily lives. From witty song lyrics to memorable movie scenes, limericks have become a creative tool for entertainers to engage and delight audiences. Their enduring popularity in comedic acts and humorous literature showcases the limerick's ability to bring smiles and laughter, transcending time and boundaries.

Three famous limericks

There Was a Young Lady of Station by Lewis Carroll
“There was a young lady of station
‘I love man’ was her sole exclamation
But when men cried, ‘you flatter’
She replied, ‘Oh! No matter!’
Isle of Man is the true explanation.”

There Was a Small Boy of Quebec by Rudyard Kipling
“There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said ‘Are you friz?’
He replied, ‘Yes, I is –
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.'”

Hickory Dickory Dock by Mother Goose
“Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one;
The mouse did run.
Hickory Dickory Dock.”

What’s your favourite limerick? Comment below.


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  • Nicholas Holmes
    12 May 2023

    Here's one I made up a while ago. You'll need to be aware of Scottish place name pronunciation! Hope you like it. An unpleasant old man from Milngavy Was extremely unwilling to die. When Old Nick rang his bell, Roaring 'come down to hell', He said 'not today thank you. Goodbye'

  • Noel Whittall
    15 May 2023

    Good luck with keeping this verse form alive. I'm a fan! Here's one I wrote earlier:

    The philosopher Rene Descartes was famed for his thoughts and his fartes. So when he said 'I think that blighter will stink.' T'was a very good time to departes.

  • Noel Whittall
    15 May 2023

    The philosopher Rene Descartes was famed for his thoughts and his fartes. So when he said 'I think that blighter will stink.' T'was a very good time to departes.

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