Saturday, June 16, 2007 AD How to Write a Limerick On a private forum of which I am a member, a friend started a Limerick game this morning. Having been the instigator and judge of a Limerick contest several years ago, I was referred to as the resident expert on the form, so I composed the following Limerick guide:
Poetic "feet" are the basic rhythmic units of poetry. Common poetic feet are the iamb, the trochee, the anapest and the dactyl. Since I'm sure you're all dying to commit these to memory, here's one way to keep them straight (the lower-case syllable is unaccented; the upper-case is accented):
iAMB iAMB iAMB (to BE or NOT to BE)
TROchee TROchee TROchee (PEter PEter PUMPkin EATer)
anaPEST anaPEST anaPEST (i am OUT of huMANity's REACH/i must FINish my JOURney aLONE)
DACtylic DACtylic DACtylic (PICTure your SELF on a BOAT on a RIVer/ with TANGerine TREE-ees and MARmalade SKII-ii-ies)
(Props to Wikipedia for the examples.)
Shakepeare typically wrote in iambic pentameter, which simply means that there are five iambs per line.
Limericks consist of two lines of anapestic triameter, two lines of anapestic diameter, and a concluding line of anapestic triameter:
So it is permissable to fiddle with the number of syllables at the beginning and end of the 1st, 2nd and 5th lines as long as the anapestic foot stays at the heart of the thing, and you are internally consistent. In other words, don't go doing wonky things like this:
As previously mentioned, the Limerick rhyme scheme is AABBA: lines 1, 2 and 5 should rhyme, and lines 3 and 4 should rhyme. Limerick rhymes should be perfect rhymes, or at least very nearly so. Limerick rhymes should also be real words, not something like purple/snurple/glurple, and certainly not frozen/chosen/dözen. And, as with all rhyming poetry, the rhymes should mean something -- don't choose a word just because rhymes, but make sure it actually adds to the sense, the story, the humor, the metaphor, the whatever else is going on in the poem.
Other common Limerick characteristics include off-color subjects, which I do not recommend for our purposes here; the use of personal and place names (but, again, because they mean something, not just because they rhyme or scan); and humor, people, humor!