Monday, 4 November 2013

Are Limericks an Underrated Form of Poetry?

by Charlotte Knighton

I decided to write an article about limericks after talking to my brother about his English exam in Year Eight. The exam was a complete disaster. When asked to write a poem interpreting the South American realism text that they had been set, he did indeed write a poem; in fact, he wrote seven, but unfortunately the style he chose was not deemed acceptable by the teacher marking his paper. He, as you may have guessed by the title of this article, chose to write limericks. My brother maintains, to this day, that he was unfairly marked and should have been given at least some credit for originality; however, he did not and got an atrocious mark. This led me to the question: what do people have against limericks?

A limerick is traditionally a rather bawdy form of poetry, full of innuendos and inappropriate jokes, in fact I think this limerick sums them up very well:-

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

While this may, in some ways, be correct, I managed to find several limericks that where, not only appropriate for a school blog, but also spoke about some more sophisticated topics.

For example two scientific ones (both Anonymous):-

A dying mosquito exclaimed,
"A chemist has poisoned my brain!"
The cause of his sorrow
Was para-dichloro-
There was a young lady named Bright
Who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And came back the previous night.

And even philosophical ones, such as this limerick by Oliver Wendell which seems to be criticising man’s effect on the planet:-

God's plan made a hopeful beginning,

But Man spoilt his chances by sinning;

We trust that the story

Will end in great glory,

Of course, many are completely nonsensical, especially many by Edward Lear, who is one of the few poets renowned primarily for writing limericks. Here is one of his:-

There was an old person of Sestri,
Who sat himself down in a vestry,
When they said, 'You are wrong!'
He merely said 'Bong!'
That repulsive old person of Sestri.

Having read many limericks while writing this, I am now surer than ever that they are a vastly under-appreciated form of poetry and can provide a person with great entertainment. However I have also found out that the majority of limericks are in no way appropriate to use in a school blog article, which I hadn’t counted on when I started writing it, as it took me longer to find enough acceptable limericks than it did to write the article, and I can see why a teacher wouldn’t think limericks were the best way to interpret South American Realism, although that had been pretty obvious from the start.  

 See also Fay Davies' article, Learning to Love the Haiku


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