Limerick definition: A limerick is a type of lyric poem that follows a specific sound and meter pattern.
What is a Limerick?
A limerick is a type of lyric poem. A limerick poem has a very specific structure.
A limerick is five lines of poetry.
- Lines 1, 2, and 5 use the same end rhyme and have the same rhythm
- Lines 3 and 4 use the same end rhyme and have the same rhythm
- Lines 1, 2, and 5 are lengthier than 3 and 4
- Each line follows a pattern of unstressed/unstressed/stressed syllables
- Lines 1, 2, and 5 are three metrical feet (usually 9 syllables)
- Lines 3 and 4 are two metrical feet (usually 6 syllables)
Limericks are often comedic or bawdy in nature.
Common Examples of Limericks
Every week on National Public Radio’s broadcasted show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, contestants play a game where they must solve a puzzle by guessing the last word of a limerick.
Here is an example of a limerick poem,
We gators catch prey every time
and not just in mud and in slime.
Thanks to Darwin’s advances
we hide up in branches.
We gators have learned how to [climb].
The Function of Limericks
Limericks are a playful form of poetry. They offer a comedic outlet for some more serious concepts.
As in any form of comedy, ideas that are perhaps more sensitive or difficult to address can be broached in limericks.
The playful nature of limericks makes them seem unassuming and friendly when they may in fact be menacing and accusatory.
Often, limerick poems are used to criticize society or behavior, express commentary or judgment, or question the status quo. Consequently, limericks have a deep history in satire.
Examples of Limericks in Literature
The invention of limericks is attributed to poet Edward Lear in 1846.
Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is one of the more famous lyric poets. He, too, wrote his share of limericks.
The following is are a pair from Carroll,
There was once a young man of Oporta,
Who daily got shorter and shorter,
The reason he said
Was the hod on his head,
Which was filled with the heaviest mortar.
His sister named Lucy O’Finner,
Grew constantly thinner and thinner;
The reason was plain,
She slept in the rain,
And was never allowed any dinner.
Limericks are often considered nonsense poems as well. Here, Carroll uses them for that purpose. Surely these poems are not meant to offend or criticize, but rather to make the audience laugh.
Notice the limerick rhyme scheme (aabba) and meter in each. A limerick is so effective because it is short, catchy, and to the point.
Outside Examples of Limerick
- In May, the former mayor of London caused a storm after he composed a vulgar limerick about Erdogan and won a British magazine’s prize for it. –The New York Times
- When we ask for a limerick, we want it to observe several rules. Some of them are more rigid than some other people’s standards; others are more lax. –The Washington Post
Summary: What is a Limerick Poem?
Define limericks: the definition of limerick is a humorous poem consisting of three long and two short lines rhyming aabba.
- A limerick is a type of lyric poem.
- Limericks have a very specific rhyme scheme and metric pattern.
- Limericks are a type of comedic outlet, sometimes uses with satiric intent.