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Limerick and Cross Limerick

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Explore the Craft of Writing
Light Verse

The Limerick is an old folk-tradition. Although commonly thought to be Irish, there is evidence that this verse form is in fact an old French form brought to the town of Limerick Ireland by returning veterans of the French War in 1700. In fact the verse form can be traced back even further. The oldest recorded poem fitting the metered, rhymed frame is from Thomas Aquinas (Italy 1225-1274).

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuation
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentation.

(Whatever evidence of French or Latin influence, the form still epitomizes all things Irish to me, therefore I include it with the Irish verse forms.) It was popularized in England by Edward Lear in 1846 as a result of his travels to Ireland in his Book of Nonsense. During this time Lear is also said to have written The Owl and the Pussy Cat for his daughter.

The Limerick of today is whimsical, witty and often bawdy. I have read that some of the Limericks that have hung around the longest are down right raunchy. The simplicity and quick easy wit of the limerick quite possibly accounts for its ageless run of popularity. It is the only Irish stanza that is used exclusively for light verse.  The elements of the Limerick are:

  1. a poem in 5 lines, a pentastich.
  2. metered verse written in anapestic patterns. L1, L2 and L5 are trimeter (3 metric feet) and L3 and L4 are dimeter (2 metric feet). (anapest = da da DUM or u-u-S = unstressed , unstressed, stressed syllables.)
  3. best used for witty, whimsical, bawdy themes, light verse.
  4. written with a rhyme scheme a,a,b,b,a.
  5. no title is used.
  6. is adaptable to variation. The 3rd and 4th dimeter lines are often indented. And because so many Limericks begin "There once was a ..." the first syllable of a line may be absent. Also, there may be an additional or subtracted syllable at the end or even in the middle of a line, if it can be read without breaking the rhythm. Sometimes the third and fourth lines are printed as a single line with internal rhyme.

    So a Limerick sounds like this:

    (da) da DUM da da DUM da da DUM,
    (da) da DUM da da DUM da da DUM,
    (da) da Dum da da DEE,
    (da) da DUM da da DEE,
    (da) da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (da) in parenthasis is optional

    There was a young lady of Niger
    Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger;
    They came back from the ride
    With the lady inside,
    And the smile on the face of the Tiger.
                                             --- unknown

    The parrot was messy and loud;
    her master was doting and proud.
    But should master die,
    his wife won't deny,
    the bird will be wearing a shroud.
                                       ---Judi Van Gorder

    An Irishman came to my city.
    his manner was charming and witty.
    He courted a lass
    who had a large ass,
    and he praised her big butt --- in a ditty.
                                        ---Judi Van Gorder

Cross Limerick is an American invented form, a variation of the Limerick found in Pathways of a Poet by Viola Berg. It adds a couple of lines to the Limerick verse form. The elements of the Cross Limerick are:

  1. a septet. (7 lines).
  2. metric,  anapestic patterns. L1, L2 and L7 are trimeter (3 metric feet) and L3,L4,L5 and L6 are dimeter (2 metric feet). (anapest = da da DUM or u-u-S = unstressed , unstressed, stressed syllables.)
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme aabcbca.
  4. best used for witty, whimsical, bawdy themes, light verse.
  5. untitled

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In the flick of an eye she went down.
In the tub, there's the rub, cracked her crown.
Lying nude on her own,
broken foot and a hand,
she lay prone. With a groan
but with grit, tried to stand,
self em-bare-assed she rose like a clown.
                                ~~Judi Van Gorder

Cross Limerick

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