Variations of the limerick form have been found dating as far back as the 14th century (or even earlier if you count Aquinas’s), nestled into nursery rhymes. Peppered throughout the history of the English language, such rhymes were also bellowed by merry-makers in taverns and pubs. Irreverent poetry was easily remembered even by the inebriated.
Not to be outdone, formal poets lent their talents to the form. Shakespeare included verse of a similar style in a few of his plays—such as a drinking song in Othello and Ophelia’s mad songs from Hamlet.
Despite its scattered use through time, the 1863 reprint of a volume of clean limericks started its more current popularity. Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense celebrated silliness:
There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.
No matter how the limerick began or how it became popularized, the poetic form easily transitioned to a bawdy sort of verse. Because it is so easy to create, you needn’t be Shakespeare to write a limerick; the only real requirement is a sense of humor. Famous New York humorist Don Marquis outlined three distinct categories of limerick:
Limericks to be told when ladies are present; limericks to be told when ladies are absent but clergymen are present–and LIMERICKS.”
The limerick has often been and very well may always be a naughty form of poetry. Many times the poet makes fun of himself, offering a satirical view of human nature and the over-developed dirty mind. Its exploration of outrageous behaviors, real and imagined, allow the reader to laugh away sexual inferiority, attitudes of the day, or misadventures.
Try It: Write an Irreverent Limerick
Consider the absurdities of popular culture, the beliefs of the day, or human behavior. This is your opportunity to make fun of the things you wouldn’t consider bringing up at the office party. Look to comedians and satirists for a little inspiration if you have trouble getting started. It’s your turn to write an irreverent limerick. Who knows? It could become a poem recited in dusty taverns for generations to come.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here is a poem from Monica we enjoyed:
Relentless, insatiable deadlines!
This manuscript’s still full of red lines.
First I’ll sweat through the edits
and check all the credits
then chill with my favorite red wine.
Photo by Al King. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland