Limericks – The History
Variants of the form of poetry referred to as Limerick poems can be traced back to the fourteenth century English history. Limericks were used in Nursery Rhymes and other poems for children. But as limericks were short, relatively easy to compose and bawdy or sexual in nature they were often repeated by beggars or the working classes in the British pubs and taverns of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventh centuries. The poets who created these limericks were therefore often drunkards! Limericks were also referred to as dirty.
Where does the term ‘Limerick’ come from?
The word derives from the Irish town of Limerick. Apparently a pub song or tavern chorus based on the refrain “Will you come up to Limerick?” where, of course, such bawdy songs or ‘Limericks’ were sung.
Limericks – The form
Limericks consist of five anapaestic lines.
Lines 1, 2, and 5 of Limericks have seven to ten syllables and rhyme with one another.
Lines 3 and 4 of Limericks have five to seven syllables and also rhyme with each other.
Limericks – A Defence
Admittedly the content of Limericks can often verge on the indecent, the dirty, or even the obscene, but they make people laugh! Limericks are easy to remember! Limericks are short and no great talent is necessary to compose one – Limericks are a form of poetry that everyone feels happy to try (especially when inebriated!). Limericks as a form of poetry has survived the test of time dating back for centuries! And whilst the poetic and literary skills of Shakespeare are not necessary for the composition of a limerick the great Bard himself did in fact write limericks which can be found in two of his greatest plays – Othello and King Lear.
The Limericks of Edward Lear
Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense included the poetry form of Limericks. His work with limericks, however, was not in any way indecent and this particular book proved to be extremely popular in the nineteenth century and this was contributed to by the humorous magazine Punch which started printing examples of limericks leading to a craze by its readers. The first edition of Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense was published by Thomas McLean on 10th February 1846. There were altogether seventy-two limericks in two volumes which sold at 3s 6d each.