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A Book of Nonsense (ca. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear


A limerick (see Wikipedia) is a

  • five-line poem.
  • Its meter is predominantly anapestic (ta-ta-TUM).
  • Its rhyme scheme is AABBA.
  • The first, second and fifth lines (A) are usually longer than the third and fourth.
  • It’s intent is humorous.
  • Limericks are probably named after the Irish County of Limerick
  • The word ‘limerick’ was first used in St John, New Brunswick

    There was a young rustic named Mallory, (A)
    who drew but a very small salary. (A)
    When he went to the show, (B)
    his purse made him go (B)
    to a seat in the uppermost gallery. (A)

    Tune: Won’t you come to Limerick.

The First Limerick: Vice and Virtue

  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Vitiorum/virtutum

The oldest attested limerick is a Latin prayer by Thomas Aquinas dating back to the 13th century.

Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
Caritatis et patientiae,
Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.

See The Lion & the Cardinal, by Daniel Mitsui

limericks Cont’d

  • Edward Lear
  • Lewis Carroll

The form appeared in England in the early years of the 18th century and was popularized by:

Limericks Compiled

  • Gershon Legman compiled the “largest and most scholarly edition” of limericks: The New Limerick: 2750 Unpublished Examples, American and British (New York, 1977, ISBN 0-517-53091-0)

Children’s Literature

Limericks are associated with children’s literature.


The Baby’s Own Aesop, illustrated by Walter Crane (Gutenberg [EBook #25433])


John Tenniel‘s depiction of the nonsense creatures in Carroll‘s Jabberwocky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Literary Nonsense

For a list of authors who use or have used literary nonsense, click on literary nonsense (Wikipedia).

Nonsense Device: The Twist

A clever twist makes for a spirited limerick. But never would I have suspected that the great Rudyard Kipling would have used a “small boy of Quebec” to give one of his limericks its rather naïve, but charming twist.


There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said. “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is—
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

Rudyard Kipling
[EBook #19993]


Sources and Resources

slear-supposed© Micheline Walker
24 October 2015