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The Limerick Packs Laughs Anatomical -- Anonymous

       
(Poem #909) The Limerick Packs Laughs Anatomical
 The limerick packs laughs anatomical
 Into space that is quite economical.
 But the good ones I've seen
 So seldom are clean -
 And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
-- Anonymous
The poem says it all <g>.

More seriously, while there are several excellent clean limericks, the vast
majority do tend to be - well, as Don Marquis put it, there are three
distinct types: "Limericks to be told when ladies are present; limericks to
be told when ladies are absent but clergymen are present--and LIMERICKS".

As I said in a previous commentary, the limerick is a nicely balanced
combination of a clever and entertaining structure and a fairly low entry
barrier; this has been responsible for a flood of limericks that is,
conceivably, greater in volume than the sum total of all other amateur
verse. And, while the form was popularised by the decidedly clean (but so
seldom comical[1]) limericks of Lear, somewhere along the line it became
inextricably intertwined with the bawdy.

[1] please don't flame me :)

An intriguing thing about limericks is that, while few of them are
attributed, they nonetheless have a surprising spreading power and lifetime.
There is a large body of famous limericks, many of them in several minor
variations, that seem to have entrenched themselves in the collective canon
without much benefit of formal publication or compilation. The humour
definitely helps here, as does the simple, and easily memorised verse form -
good limericks can and do get spread very rapidly by word of mouth (and
now, of course, the internet).

One drawback (if you can call it that) of the form is that it is almost
irretrievably frivolous. It's nigh impossible to write a serious poem in
limerick form (though I have seen some scattered examples), and most people
don't even bother trying. Also, the limerick is a very self-contained form;
while I've seen several poems with each verse consisting of a limerick, I
feel that the technique doesn't really work, because of the irresistible
feeling of closure when the reader reaches the fifth line.

Links:

  http://www.cc.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Handbook/limerick.html is an
  excellent essay on limericks

  http://www.interviews-with-poets.com/poetry-directory/limerick.html has a
  nice collection of links

  We've run a couple of limericks on Minstrels:
    Poem #378: "There Was an Old Man with a Beard", Edward Lear
    Poem #801: "A Mosquito Was Heard to Complain", Dr. D. D. Perrin

-martin

33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

H.Paul Lillebo said...

For my treatment of some of the better limericks (with acknowledgement
to Norman Douglas), you might enjoy:
[broken link] http://newtrix.com/poems/limerick.htm
Cheers,
Paul

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Anonymous said...

One drawback (if you can call it that) of the form is that it is almost
irretrievably frivolous. It's nigh impossible to write a serious poem in
limerick form (though I have seen some scattered examples), and most people
don't even bother trying.

I disagree. "Serious" is not alll that difficult. Example:

Obamacare's been rammed down your gut
Unless of course, you're a socialist nut).
Put your gem in your pocket,
'Cause you may have to hock it
To pay for your healthcare when it's cut.

BP said...

Enjoyed the blog. I'm wondering though if it's valid to compare Lear's work with the risqué limerick. Edward Lear brims with era-exuding charm. It's like comparing 'The Cucumber and Chandelier Monthly' cartoon with Laurel & Hardy, perhaps!?

Anonymous said...

Someone might enjoy a few on THIS page.

http://www.rhymestorming.webs.com/

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