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Thread: limericks

  1. #1


    Hi there, I have always felt that on the occasions when I got understanding of a formal verse form and tried writing in it this led to an overall improvement in my writing. It was the reason I started the limerick thread. It is a simple form, with a good solid structure. It is short, and it is amusing. To my mind it is the beginners ideal introduction to the world of formal poetry. So here we go.

    Do you understand this?

    A limerick is a formal poetic construction of five anapaestic lines with three feet in the first second and fifth, and two in the third and fourth. The last syllable is often truncated in the final foot of a line.
    It follows the rhyming scheme a.a.b.b.a. And is often comical or risque in character.

    It has the wording of a formal definition, but don’t let that put you off, it is fairly simple really. These three examples might help.

    A limerick’s made of five lines,
    Three long and two short, you will find.
    Long lines nine or eight
    Syllables they may make
    Five or six in the short you may find.

    Content that’s absurd or makes fun
    May be more risqué than The Sun.
    Although rude, even lewd,
    It should never be crude
    But have double enterdres and puns.

    “The Sun” is a British tabloid that features a ‘Page three girl’
    A syllable is a group of letters containing one pronounced vowel. ‘Cat’ and ‘beat’ are single syllable words.
    A foot is a basic unit of meter; a group of syllables of which one is stressed.
    An anapaest is a foot consisting of two unstressed syllables and one stressed after them. An-na-paest is an anapaest.
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  2. #2
    Thanks Olly. I like writing limericks.
    There are 'purists', who claim that only a limerick with respectively 7, 7, 5, 5, 7 syllables are true limericks.

    It's why I don't post them on WF anymore.

    Also, I still am convinced that a foot can have a variable number of syllables, because there is music and stress, and simply dialectic differences involved. It always leads to arguments

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  3. #3
    Yeah, I can go with that to some degree. My touchstone is;

    There was a young lady from Rye
    Who ate some green apples and died
    The apples fermented
    Inside the lamented
    And made cider inside 'er inside.

    If it has a rhythm that feels like that I would count it as a limerick. That was the first limerick I learned by heart, I must have been quite young because I didn't know what 'fermented' or 'lamented' meant.

    Only seven syllables and nothing else? Why?. "There was an old man with a beard" has eight, "There was a man with a beard" would do it, but it is not what was written. Sounds to me like some sort of pedantry, probably dating from the eighteen hundreds. They were big on rules then, 'you must always ... ', 'Never ...' . People were still teaching things like 'Never start a sentence with a conjunction' when I was in school in the nineteen fifties. It is a prescriptive approach rather than a descriptive one, that's a nineteenth early twentieth century approach as opposed to a late twentieth, present day one.

    Which are the short feet in a 7syllable line?
    Can you make a six work?

    An old man had a head'
    "Never without it" he said
    "If you chop it off
    It might make me cough"
    "Hey axeman, one here to behead

    That's six seven and eight all in the same limerick. And I reckon 'limerick' is a reasonable description as it is commonly understood
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  4. #4
    That is exactly what I mean yes.
    What makes these two lines work:
    The apples fermented
    Inside the lamented
    is that the final syllable is unaccented, mute so to speak, so although there are 6 per line, they count as 5 for me
    Not officially of course, but still.
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  5. #5
    I was surprised reading Chaucer with notes the other day. Apparently the 'e' on the end of a lot of words was pronounced, they said it like the 'a' on the end of China. That's why Chaucer doesn't seem to scan sometimes, there is an extra syllable we wouldn't pronounce.
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  6. #6
    Olly (my auto correct thinks your name is “Only”), what you say in your OP about form making us better writer’s, was the subject of a lecture that I attended a few years ago given by George Bowering. Bowering is a former Poet Laureate of Canada and one of only two writers to receive the Governor General’s Award in both fiction and Poetry (The other is Margret Atwood). Bowering has published something like 120 books. Anyway, the lecture was about “constrictions” which Bowering says force us to “serve the form” rather than the ego. Any form is a constriction in that it dictates rules about the way the poem (or novel) is to be written. You can also create your own constrictions. There are novels written without using the letter “e”. Bowering published a book of “alphabet poems.” In first poem in the book, every line started with “A”, the second poem “B,” etc.. He had some complicated formula that allowed him to write more than 26 poems by doubling letters or something. The last poem was acrostic, using each letter of the alphabet in sequence to start each line. He also published a book of 365 poems, one written every day for a year. He had some other constrictions as well, some using the exact metre and rhyme scheme of other famous plays and poems (I can’t remember what they were).

    Anyway, his point was to serve the form and remove the ego (self consciousness) from the act of writing, which he claims, stimulates creativity.

  7. #7
    Hmmm... a slight problem (which I won’t solve) with your Sun example. In the first word of the first line must not the accent fall on the second syllable, whereas the word ‘content’ is actually accented on the first?

  8. #8
    Hmmm... Slippy old English I think in my head I probably pronounced it more like 'content' in the sense 'satisfied. I think you probably hear the accent better than I do, I often have real trouble deciding where it lies and I am sitting here now going 'COn tent, con Tent' and not quite sure
    Anyway, totally my invention, so if it is wrong I take full responsibility, I can only say 'I did my best'; and no, I can't think of an alternative either
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  9. #9
    There was a young poet named Graeme
    whose rhaymes were excessively laeme.
    He’d rhayme blame with cane,
    toad with boat, load with stoat
    and his publisher died of the shaeme.

    Solly Olly, ah couldna resist it.

  10. #10
    Are you content with the contents of the box - as you say, slippery English...
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.


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