Tag Archives: humor

Ludicrous Limericks

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.


Book Review: The Absolute at Large (Čapek 1922)

The Absolute at Large was written in 1922 by Czech author Karel Čapek (free web translation to English here). It is about the advent of a machine called the Karburator. The Karburator split atoms into two parts: useful work and a mysterious force called the “absolute”. The absolute is a god force which causes intense religiosity in people, and allows them to perform miracles. As the Karburator spreads across the planet, so does the absolute, and the book describes what follows.

I really enjoyed this book, and I would highly recommend it. First, it’s smart science fiction. In 1922, forces such as radiation were pretty recent science. Radium was discovered in 1898. Čapek describes something very like fission well before its invention. Second, this book is subtly very funny. Through the book, Čapek lampoons religion, communism, and nationalism at least. Third, the book is a short and simple read. My copy was about 200 pages with large print and lots of white space. If you enjoy this book, you can try out Čapek’s possibly more famous work, R.U.R., the book in which the word “robot” was created (derived from the Czech word for serf labor). I haven’t gotten around to that one yet myself.

I had a special reaction to The Absolute at Large, which is largely set in Prague. I was lucky enough to spend a summer in Prague, during which time I was able to talk at length with older residents. The Absolute at Large captures a certain essence of the Czech spirit. The Czechs are cynical in a very witty way. They’ve had religion thrust upon them (read about Jan Hus, the Hussites, and the First Defenestration of Prague). They’ve had nationalities thrust upon them (read about the Second Defenestration of Prague). In 1922, Czechoslovakia had been an independent country for only 3 years following the fall of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Unlike the Poles, who seem to resist forcefully, and the Hungarians and their patriotic sorrow, the Czechs have resorted to humor to endure their less-than-dominant place in geopolitical events. A few years ago, the Czechs held a contest to vote for the greatest Czech ever. The Czechs voted for Jara Cimrman, a fictional man who had no official face (the sculpture had become smooth, they couldn’t find him in this photo of a few hundred, etc). However, fictional Cimrman was credited with many wonderful feats: he suggested the Panama Canal, he was briefly an obstetrician, he consulted with Zeppelin, Eiffel, Mendeleev and Curie. If you are ever in Prague, there is a free museum to Cimrman under the Petřín Tower.

The Absolute at Large has a similar sense of humor to Cimrmanology; Čapek lampoons the inevitable powers of the world and their effect on the Czechs. And how appropriate that the Karburator should be invented in Prague… perhaps Cimrman lent a hand.