There was an old man with a hat.
The hat had a hole for a bat.
When the bat flew away,
The man cried, “Please stay!”
How I hate to wear a cold hat.”
There was an old man with a slug.
He wanted to give it a hug.
The slug cried, “Oh no!
You must let me go!
Your hugs are too snug for a slug.”
There once was a boy with a frog.
What he’d wanted to get was a dog.
The boy ordered, “Sit!”
The frog had a fit,
And burped, “First, you must get me a log!”
(c) 2013 Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved
Oh my poor family, for I have dedicated this week to the limerick. Once I started, I found it nearly impossible to stop. I can still hear the anapests galloping in my head. As you probably know, a limerick is a five-line poem in which the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme and use the following pattern of accents—da DUM, da da DUM, da da DUM. Lines three and four also rhyme and follow this pattern of accents—da DUM, da da DUM. (Alternatively, lines three and four can be combined into one line with an internal rhyme, which is how Edward Lear wrote them.) In some limericks the last word of the last line repeats the last word in either line one or line two. Though traditional, this repetition seems to offend some of today’s readers.
My favorite limerick is from Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense:
There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I feared!–
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”
To me this poem seems a perfect example of the kind of innocent silliness kids (and grown-ups) enjoy. But as a poet, what I really admire is Lear’s simple language and what appears to be an effortless use of the form. After a week of writing limericks, I’m guessing that what seems effortless is actually the result of great effort, great talent, and good fortune. Compared to the example above, many limericks act like contortionists, twisting themselves uncomfortably to fit the form. It’s the rare limerick that glides across the tightrope with grace and ease.
For more information about the limerick, visit Poets.org.
For more Poetry Friday, visit Julie Larios at The Drift Record.
(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass