A limerick is a strictly structured device used to deliver appealing nonsense with amazing precision. It has been called, without hostility, the lowest form of poetry. Edward Lear, a master of the limerick, had great influence on Lewis Carroll.
Consider what might be the most famous limerick:
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his beli-can.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for the week;
But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.
Variously attributed to Ogden Nash or Dixon Lanier Merritt
Form is important. Just like Haiku. Wikipedia says,
“The standard form of a limerick is a stanza of five lines, with the first, second and fifth rhyming with one another and having three feet of three syllables each; and the shorter third and fourth lines also rhyming with each other, but having only two feet of three syllables.”
I don’t know what they mean by “feet.”
Remarking on its form is this limerick:
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
Inspired by a friend traveling to Singapore, I wrote this ditty. It’s crude, non-conforming, and close:
I once went to old Singapore
Its temples and parks I adore
But when I dropped my gum
I was caned till numb
Now I won’t chew gum anymore.
Better examples from real poets are below:
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
William Cosmo Monkhouse
My firm belief is that Pizarro
Received education at Harrow –
This alone would suffice,
To account for his vice,
And his views superstitiously narrow.
There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her.
But she seized on the cat,
and said ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!’
There once was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.
There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”
From “There was a small boy of Quebec” by Rudyard Kipling)
There once was a horse on the road
Who was anxious to tread on a toad
Till a motor car which
Knocked him into a ditch
Made him feel for himself—and the toad.
There once was a farmer from Leeds,
Who swallowed a packet of seeds.
It soon came to pass,
He was covered with grass,
But has all the tomatoes he needs
Limericks can also be precise, in the hands of gifted mathematicians or writers:
A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.
A mathematician confided
That a Möbius strip is one-sided.
You’ll get quite a laugh
If you cut it in half.
For it stays in one piece when divided.
Image from here: http://slideplayer.com/slide/8679307/