So you want to learn how to write a limerick poem?
From clever to nonsensical, lilting to downright funny, limerick poems are an easy poetry form to learn. If you have a knack for finding words that rhyme, you’ll soon be composing your own funny limerick poems. Not sure where to begin? Keep reading and soon you will know how to write a limerick poem.
What is a limerick poem? A limerick is a one stanza poem with five lines.The lines follow a set rhyming scheme, AABBA.
Does that make sense so far? Let’s jump to an example because you probably already know one limerick. The Mother Goose nursery rhyme — Hickory Dickory Dock:
Hickory dickory dock.
The mouse went up the clock
The clock struck one.
The mouse went down
Hickory dickory dock
See the five lines and two rhymes? True, the B rhyme in this poem doesn’t sound quite right since our English pronunciation has shifted since it was written.
But now you are getting the feel of a limerick. So let’s look at a real limerick by O. E. Parrot:
The limerick’s birth is unclear:
Its genesis owed much to Lear.
It started as clean,
But soon went obscene.
And this split haunts its later career.
Do you see that AABBA rhyming? And notice how the middle rhyme is shorter? We’ll talk more about that in a little bit, but first, let’s explain the limerick itself.
Nonsense, Ireland, and Edward Lear
Where did limerick poems begin? We don’t know although early examples of limerick-type poetry can be traced back to Mother Goose and Shakespeare.
We do know a group of Irish poets in the 18th century began having fun using this poetic form. A tavern keeper wrote a limerick about his tavern selling the best brandy; his friend wrote a mocking limerick response, and so on, and so forth.
Then, over in England, Edward Lear started using limericks — though he called them “nonsense.” Lear’s Book of Complete Nonsense, published in 1846, launched limericks into the public eye.
As time passed, the word “limerick” stuck to the poetic form, but Lear’s “nonsense” is a good description, too. Limerick poems can be silly and tongue-in-cheek; they vary from witty to downright lewd. (Keep this caution in mind as you go off to look up examples, or you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise.)
Learning from Limericks
Let’s start with some “nonsense” from Edward Lear:
There was an Old Man in a pew,
Whose waistcoat was spotted with blue;
But he tore it in pieces
To give to his nieces,
That cheerful Old Man in a pew.
Notice how Lear almost repeats his first line in the limerick’s concluding fifth line? This is a common occurrence in traditional limericks.
Now let’s look at a limerick by the famous author and poet Rudyard Kipling. (And notice how Kipling adds some dialogue to his limerick.)
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.
Like Lear, Kipling starts and finishes with the same word. But see how he makes it part of a conversation in the fifth line? And look at his creative middle rhyme too — creativity is allowed and encouraged in limerick poems.
Before you begin writing, let’s talk about poetic meter. Did you notice how the limericks you read so far flowed? A lot of credit for the way a limerick rolls off the tongue is due to its meter.
Anapestic foot is commonly used in limericks — two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable make up an anapestic “foot.”
An excellent example of anapestic foot is the opening line of Longfellow’s much longer poem
“Paul Revere’s Ride:”
Listen my children and you shall hear . . .
See how the words flow and how every third syllable is emphasized? Remember that, but ready for the surprise?
Let’s take another look at the first two lines of our example limericks.
There was an Old Man in a pew . . .
There was a small boy of Quebec . . .
Since limericks are short, they often begin with an iamb, the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed and then move to anapestic foot. This helps the limerick stay short and snappy.
Limerick Length and a Little More Meter
You might have noticed the limerick lines weren’t all the same length. In a limerick poem, the “A” lines (1st, 2nd and 5th) are always longer with more stressed syllables. That makes the middle (3rd and 4th) “B” lines shorter with fewer stressed syllables. But both will still follow the same meter.
However, no matter the meter, the focus of a limerick poem is the end of each line —and that end word will sound stressed due to its rhyme.
This may sound complicated, but once you start writing your limerick, you will be surprised how easy it is to slip into an unpatterned pattern. In a limerick, consistent flow and rhyme are more important than technical metric perfection.
The Layout of a Limerick
Three things to remember as you go:
- Five Lines
- Two Rhymes (AABBA)
- Meter Matters
Now here’s an outline. It’s simple, and in a moment we’ll break it down further.
Line One: Introduces the limerick’s subject, ends with the “A” rhyme
LIne Two: Brings the action BUT ALSO rhymes with the “A” rhyme
Line Three: Keeps the thought going, but introduces another element, with the “B” rhyme
Line Four: Completes the sub-thought and “B” rhyme and leads to. . .
Line Five: Concludes with a zing that is also an “A” rhyme
Now we’ll walk through each line and take a look at the rhymes —have a sheet of paper handy since this will help you brainstorm AND get your own rhymes ready.
Famous First Lines
We all know how fairytales begin, “Once upon a time.” Limericks share some similar starts, “There was” or “There once was” are two common beginnings.
Like a fairytale, your limerick will go on to introduce the limerick’s main character or subject.
Leading Along: Line 2
You’ve got your limerick started. Now what? You’ll need to keep interest and rhyme at the same time. This is why you’ll want to brainstorm BEFORE you put pen to paper. How will you hook your readers?
Enter “B”: Line 3
With “B” comes the action, if it hasn’t happened already, and often the comedy. You are half-way into your limerick, and the laughter should be building.
“B” Looking Behind and Ahead: Line 4
By line 4, you’ve ratcheted up the humor and raised the stakes. Now what? How is line 3 going to be followed up?
And how is this all going to conclude? How will this fit with the beginning and the “A” rhyme? This bit of your limerick might take a little time — will it have some flare or lead more quietly toward the end?
“A” Grand Finale: Line Five
This is it, the moment we’ve been waiting for — the limerick is finishing with a bang. You don’t want a pop or a fizzle — pull out the stops with a flourish and a boom.
Don’t leave room for any dangling or doubt. This is the end, and you are ending decisively.
Apun My Limerick
As you work on brainstorming your rhymes, don’t be afraid of puns. Poets like to sneak puns into limericks!
Take Time to Rhyme
Now you know the outline of a limerick — do you know what you want your limerick to be about? The sky’s the limit as long as you can think of rhymes!
Brainstorm: what will your rhyming AABBA words be? Do you have words that rhyme with these words? Can some of these words be used more than once due to multiple meanings?
Your rhyme is what will make, break, or frustrate you the most. So take your time.
Rhyming with Rabbits
Let’s say you want to write a limerick about a rabbit. You want to end your first line with “rabbit,” making it your “A” rhyme. What will you rhyme with rabbit? Habit! That sounds good. What about another rhyme? Will you use rabbit again, at the end?
What about a good “B” rhyme for your rabbit poem? Carrot could be good. But there aren’t many rhymes for that, are there? This is where you can have fun — “share it” rhymes!
If you don’t mind potentially repeating “rabbit” at the end of your limerick, you can get to work writing. You might even think of one more rhyme for rabbit by the end of your limerick.
If you don’t really don’t want to repeat your rhyme, consult a rhyming dictionary or change the rhyme.
Don’t be disappointed if you have to change your rhyme words — better to do it while you’re brainstorming than midway through your poem. It will take some brainstorming, but soon you’ll have those rhymes ready.
They All Limericked Happily Ever After
You’ve got your rhymes in hand, and you are ready to write. And have fun. Lots of fun. Because limericks are not supposed to be serious. A funny limerick is a proper limerick. So put your tongue in your cheek, and start limericking!
A Word of Warning
If you decide to look up limericks to get ideas, you will encounter all types. There are funny, humorous ones. But there are many that might offend — so proceed with caution!