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Limericks
By Brenda B. Covert
  

1     If it's humor that you crave, you will probably find it in a limerick! Edward Lear popularized limericks in the 1800s when he published A Book of Nonsense, which was filled with silly limericks he had written for the children of a friend. We know this form of poetry dates back to the 1700s at least, because the nursery rhyme "Hickory, Dickory, Dock," was first printed in 1744; it follows the rhyming pattern of limericks. There is a city in Ireland named Limerick. Perhaps this form of poetry was born there, or maybe the city's name was used in the first poem.
 
2     A limerick is a five-line poem made up of one couplet and one triplet. A couplet is a two-line rhymed poem. A triplet is a three-line rhymed poem. (I know, you thought a triplet was one of three children born to the same mother at the same time. That's true, too.) The poem begins with the first two lines of the triplet, followed by the couplet, and finished with the final line of the triplet. The rhyme pattern looks like this:
 
3     
a
 
4     a
 
5     b
 
6     b
 
7     a

 
8     Lines 1, 2, and 5 contain 3 stressed syllables, while lines 3 and 4 contain just 2 stressed syllables. Counting stressed and unstressed syllables, each of the triplet lines will have 8 or 9 syllables, and each of the couplet lines will have 5 or 6.
 
9     The last line of a well-written limerick contains the punch line, or joke, of the poem. In spite of that, many of Lear's limericks simply repeated the rhyme from the first line. He was known to sometimes create a nonsense word to fit the rhyme. This is known as "pulling a Lear"!
 
10     As an example, read the following limerick by Edward Lear, the stressed and unstressed syllables are listed under each line to help you learn the rhythm:
 
11     
 
12     We're going to work our way up to writing an original limerick. For our first exercise, look at the following limerick. Where have the rhyming words gone? They've been replaced by synonyms! See if you can replace the underlined synonyms with words that rhyme.

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