Limericks are the most light-hearted and least-respected of poetry. Some of them are vulgar or scoffing of grammar, but that makes them more flexible. Perhaps because nothing is beneath a limerick, it can do anything, and that is the beauty of it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been reading children’s poetry in a class. I found limericks in several anthologies, and I think they are perfect for kids because they’re brief, playful, and often subtly point out the oddities of english. You certainly couldn’t hope for a better example of rhyme and meter to catch a young ear.
Silly as it is, I never noticed that poems have a structured meter. Perhaps that’s because of all the free verse out there now. Limericks have what’s called an “anapest” meter; the stress falls as ta-ta-tum or light-light-strong. The rhyming scheme is harder to miss: AABBA. So below are a couple of favorites, the first by Carolyn Wells and the second by Dixon Lanier Merritt:
A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”
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!
You can see in both the examples above, the stress falls on each third syllable: “a tu-tor who toot-ed the flute”, or “a won-der-ful bird is the pel-i-can”. The first and last stressed syllables don’t have to be the first or last syllables in the line, but all stressed syllables are separated by two un-stressed ones. If you require 100 more examples, Edward Lear’s “Book of Nonsense” should help. They aren’t as humorous as the ones I posted, but there are plenty of them (and free!) on the Gutenberg Project link above.
I got into the spirit and tried one myself. It and a couple of others will go into a project I’m currently working on. Enjoy!
There once were some people on Earth,
Who grumbled that there was no mirth,
Though some found it daft,
They built a space craft,
And hunted for somewhere with worth.