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Limerick verse

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Limerick verse

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Limerick verse

It was the English writer Edward Lear’s A Book Of Nonsense, published in 1846, that started the craze for this simple poetic form, although Lear was certainly not the first to use it. It appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as in bawdy drinking songs and satire. Its simplicity also made it popular in children’s rhymes. Hickory Dickory Dock, first published in 1744, is one example.

The limerick, as popularised by Lear, has one verse, five lines long, with the rhymes coming on the first, second and last lines, and the third and fourth lines. No one seems to know for sure how it got its name. Some say it was taken from a popular Irish song, Will You Come Up To Limerick?. Others claim it emerged after readers of Punch magazine were challenged to come up with a rhyme for the name of the Irish city. Either way, the word didn’t appear until the late 1800s, and Lear himself never used the term.


Your comments

The humble 5-line limerick is the people's poetry and has served daily (since before the first limerick book of 1820 - The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women - published in London) as their opportunity to comment on current affairs, to mark personal events and to poke fun at all things. It serves all classes equally well and enjoys limitless bounds within the folds of the English language. For example: Let's hope that our winter is brief It seems that, to me, it's a thief From both man and beast, We want it deceased! Next spring will be such a re-leaf. Or ... Superstitious old actors like Sid Use tradition as part of their id. Once, approaching the boards, His colleagues (in hordes) Shouted out, "Break a leg!" And he did ...... Doug Harris

Doug Harris

You say "Others claim it emerged after readers of Punch magazine were challenged to come up with a rhyme for the name of the Irish city." I have never seen this claim in print. I have read many issues of Punch and have never seen this challenge. References please!
Bob Turvey

The limerick is the most compact form of creativity known to man and the cheapest too! All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil and you can be creative while poking fun at the latest BIg Brother stupidity, the Government's current crazy idea or the England football team manager's latest dalliance. It suits all modes of communication equally well and fits with the modern trend of short attention span behaviour - a quick and witty snapshot of anything that takes your fancy. One really interesting thing is that no-one knows for sure when the 5-line (or sometimes 4-line, combining lines 3 and 4) verse form in AABBA rhyming style really first appeared ...... much less how it got the name "limerick". Was it a derivation of "Lear-ick" after Edward Lear its populariser? Was it an on-the-hoof marching ditty used by Irish soldiers returning to Limerick from the war? Was it developed by the Maigue poets of Ireland or was it just because such verses often commenced with, "There was an old woman from ........ ", and while Leeds and China are simple enough to find rhymes for, "Limerick" itself is very difficult to rhyme with! You try it!
Doug Harris

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My favourite Icon of England has to be the Cornish Pasty.

Ian Baldry