What is a limerick?

What is a limerick?

As well as a city in Ireland, a limerick is a humorous form of poetry with 5 lines and that has a strict rhyme pattern (AABBA).


There are five stanzas in a limerick:

  • The first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other and should have 7 - 10 syllables
  • The third and fourth lines rhyme with each other and should be shorter, with 5 - 7 syllables

Where did the Limerick come from?

There is a lot of uncertainty as to where the limerick came from. It is thought to have originated in France in the Middle Ages, and crossed the channel to England in the early 18th century. Shakespeare was known to use this form of poetry in plays such as The Tempest, Othello and King Lear. Limericks were also used in Mother Goose's Melodies in 1776, which meant that this particular style of poetry became associated with nursery rhymes and children's literature.

Limericks really became popularized by Edward Lear in his First Book of Nonsense in the 1800s. Lear wrote 212 limericks which were mostly nonsensical and accompanied by absurd illustrations of the same subject. Limericks became a craze, and by the end of the 19th century many notable poets and authors such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain were experimenting with the form. They were often used in weekly newspaper contest with big prizes.

Today limericks are often used in the classroom to allow children to experiment with language, rhyming patterns and poetry forms.

Famous Limericks

“Hickory dickory dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
And down he run.
Hickory dickory dock.”

“There was an Old Man of Peru
Who watched his wife making a stew.
But once, by mistake,
In a stove she did bake
That unfortunate Man of Peru.”

- Edward Lear

“And let me the canakin clink, clink.
And let me the canakin clink.
A soldier’s a man.
A life’s but a span.
Why, then, let a soldier drink.”

- William Shakespeare (Othello)

Now that you've had a chance to read about limericks, why not try writing your own?

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