The Best Of The Limerick I Oxford Open Learning

The Best Of The Limerick

English writer and artist Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) is perhaps most well-known for his poem The Owl and the Pussycat, but in 1846 he published his Book of Nonsense, which popularised the limerick. Limericks are a short form of comedic poetry, consisting of just five lines with an A-A-B-B-A rhyming structure. The birthday of Lear, the 12th May, is now known as World Limerick Day and so, to celebrate, we take a look at a few world-famous examples.

Let’s begin with a limerick written by Lear himself…

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!

The Geographical Limerick

This world-famous limerick, whose author is anonymous, helped to popularise the “geographical limerick”, in which the last word of the first line is the name of a place. It was first published in the early-1900s in the college magazine of Princeton University, New Jersey, USA.

There was an old man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Limerick

Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote the novels Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but he also published a book of poetry for children and penned a number of limericks…

There was an old man of the Cape
Who made himself garments of crepe.
When asked, ‘Do they tear?’
He replied, ‘Here and there;
But they’re perfectly splendid for shape.’

Cold Kipling

British novelist Rudyard Kipling, the author of The Jungle Book, was also partial to writing limericks …

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.”

The Nonsense Of Carroll

Here’s a limerick by English writer Lewis Carroll, author of the somewhat nonsensical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass…

There was 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.

A More Philosophical Approach

This next limerick by American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes senior, is unusual in that, as well as being humorous, it makes a deeper, philosophical point…

God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory,
But at present the other side’s winning.

The Calculated Limerick

Lastly, for those of you who prefer numbers to words, a limerick from British mathematician Leigh Mercer…

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.

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