The first time I came across a limerick was in the '90s, when I was studying English with a book called WOW! 2 ( Oxford University Press, 1991). In unit 13, page 61, there was a limerick which said:"There was a young lady from Riga,/Who rode with a smile on a tiger./They returned from the ride/With the lady inside,/ And the smile on the face of the tiger."And since then, I've been interested in limericks.
But let's begin at the beginning. What is a limerick? According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, a limerick is " a humorous short poem, with two long lines that rhyme with each other, followed by two short lines that rhyme with each other and ending with a long line that rhymes with the first two". Traditionally, in the first line, a person and a place are introduced. The place appears at the end of the first line and establishes the rhyme scheme for the second and fifth lines. In some limericks the last line is a repeat of the first line.
The term limerick comes from the Irish town of Limerick. It is said that there was a pub song or a nonsense verse parlour game (a game played in the home, especially a word game or guessing game) which included the refrain: "Will you come up to Limerick?".
We can find examples of early limericks in the fourteenth century. At first, they were used in Nursery rhymes but as they were easy to compose, they became very popular among the working classess who went to pubs. So the contents of the limericks turned out to be obscene since many of the authors were, in fact, drunkards. As a result of this, limericks were considered dirty and they weren't included in poetry.
However, in the nineteenth century, limericks were popularized by Edward Lear ( 1812-1888 ) in his "Book of Nonsense" ( 1845). His limericks were not obscene and they were suitable for children. Lear's limericks were accompanied by absurd illustrations made by the same author. Here are some examples.
I would like to mention that while I was looking for material to write this post, I found limericks in Spanish too. María Elena Walsh ( 1930-2011) has written some limericks. You can read them in her book "Zoo Loco" ( 1964 ). Here are some of them.
Una vaca que come con cuchara
y que tiene un reloj en vez de cara,
que vuela y habla inglés,
sin duda alguna es
una vaca rarísima, muy rara.
Un gato concertista toca Liszt,
una lechuza va y le dice:-Chist,
me aburres por demás,
cambia ya de compás
que tengo ganas de bailar el twist.
Un gallo a una gallina preguntó:
¿Cocorocó? ¿Cocorocó cocó?
la gallina, indecisa,
primero le dio risa,
pero después le contestó que no.
Parece que en Japón había un mono,
que dormía la siesta con kimono.
-Qué cosa rara es
-decía un japonés
- ver a un mono en kimono haciendo nono.
Here are some websites about limericks.
The images that illustrate this post have been selected from Google Images.