Limericks are humorous nonsense poems that were made popular in English by Edward Lear. Limericks not only have rhyme, but rhythm. The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme, and the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme. This means the rhyme scheme is AABBA. The rhythm of a limerick comes from a distinct pattern. Lines 1, 2, and 5 generally have seven to ten syllables, while lines 3 and 4 have only five to seven syllables. Here is an example from Lear's book.
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!'
You can read Lear's A Book of Nonsense online, which includes 112 limericks. If you want to hold a paper copy in your hands, look for The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, written and illustrated by Edward Lear with an introduction by Holbrook Jackson.
Here are a few books for children that nicely exhibit this form.
The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (1989), written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, is a collection of 41 limericks published a few years after Ciardi's death. Divided into five sections under the headings of (I) Sometimes Even Parents Win; (II) It Came From Outer Space; (III) He Was Brave, But Not For Long; (IV) Iron Men and Wooden Ships; and (V) Heights Made Him Dizzy, readers will find humor and wit in these short poems. Here is an example.
I once knew a word I forget
That means "I am sorry we met
And I wish you the same."
It sounds like your name
But I haven't remembered that yet.
Poem ©John Ciardi. All rights reserved.
Grimericks (2008), written by Susan Pearson and illustrated by Gris Grimly, is a collection of limericks on all manner of monsters appear in this fun volume of poems. It begins with this poem.
Dear Reader, please lend me your ear.
If ghosts, ghouls, and goblins you fear,
don't open this book.
No--don't even look!
There are spooky things hiding in here.
You'll find incompetent and unlucky witches, mummies, skeletons, banshees, and more. Grimly's illustrations are full of (appropriately!) grim humor. Here's one of my favorites.
Augustus, a ghoul who played chess,
felt his game was a howling success.
If a player could beat him,
then Gus would just eat him,
"Too bad," he said. "One player less."
Poems ©Susan Pearson, 2008. All rights reserved.
At Google Books you can preview some of the images and poems.
If you want to try reading and writing some limericks in your classroom, here are some helpful resources.
- EDSITEment has a terrific lesson plan entitled Edward Lear, Limericks, and Nonsense: There Once Was ... for grades 3-5.
- PowerPoetry has a set of 5 Tips for Writing a Limerick.
- Kenn Nesbitt has a page for kids on How to Write a Limerick.
- Bruce Lansky also has a nice page for kids on How to Write a Limerick.
- Teaching Ideas has a page on limericks with some activity ideas.
- Use this simple online tool to write an instant limerick.
- The teachers math lab at Annenberg Learner has a limerick generator designed to get folks thinking about patterns.
- Here's a lesson plan on writing limericks that has a useful writing/assessment checklist.
- Finally, here's a fun video for helping kids think about limerick writing.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction to the limerick. On Saturday and Sunday I will be sharing interviews with children's poets. On Monday I'll return with a look at ekphrastic poetry.