A limerick is a short, funny poem. It doesn’t necessarily have to make much sense, but it should make people laugh. Thinking about something funny that has happened to you or a friend, or perhaps imagining something ridiculous that could happen in your home town could be a good place to start.
Reading a few limericks will give you a feel for how they should be constructed. Both classic limericks and modern ones can help you understand the rhyme and rhythm that are so important, especially when you read them out loud.
The famous limerick “A wonderful bird is the pelican” has been attributed to Ogden Nash, but was actually written by Dixon Lanier Merritt of Tennessee. It goes as follows:
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!
A more modern limerick is:
There once was a farmer from Leeds,
Who swallowed a packet of seeds.
It soon came to pass,
He was covered with grass,
But has all the tomatoes he needs.
The rhyme scheme
As you can see from these examples, there are five lines in a limerick. The first line, second line and fifth line all need to rhyme with each other and the third and fourth lines have a different rhyme and rhyme with each other. This is the well known AABBA rhyme scheme, as follows:
Line 1: A
Line 2: A
Line 3: B
Line 4: B
Line 5: A
The syllable scheme
In addition to the rhyme scheme, the limerick also needs a syllable scheme. The first and second lines should have eight or nine syllables as should the fifth line whilst the third and fourth lines are shorter, having five or six syllables:
Line 1: Eight or nine
Line 2: Eight or nine
Line 3: Five or six
Line 4: Five or six
Line 5: Eight or nine
The meter is the number of stressed syllables or beats in each line. You can understand this better by saying “da” for unstressed syllables and “DUM” for stressed ones. There are three stressed syllables in the first line, the second line and the fifth line and two stressed syllables in the third and fourth lines. This is how it should look:
Line 1: da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
Line 2: da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
Line 3: da DUM da da DUM
Line 4: da DUM da da DUM
Line 5: da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
Writing the limerick
Introduce the main character in the first line, as Edward Lear did in his limerick “There was an Old Person of Dover”. Using one syllable rhyming words can help in the construction, and make sure you follow the rhyme and syllable schemes. In the second line, you can give the main character something silly or strange to do, or an odd characteristic and in the third and fourth lines you can introduce a problem or silly obstacle. The last line finishes the limerick by resolving the problem or revealing what happened in the end.
When you have written the limerick, it is a good idea to read it out loud to check the rhythm, rhyme and stressed syllables all sound right. If anything needs adjusting, you can do it now. When you are satisfied with your limerick, show it to friends or family members and ask their opinion about whether it flows well.
The final step is to title the limerick – this is often just the first line but can be simply “Limerick” or the name of the main character.