Limericks survive today with poems that pay tribute to everything from Steve Jobs to the London Underground.
This year marks the bicentenary of the man who gave us the delightful image of the owl and the pussycat who sailed away together, married in the land of the bong tree, and ate quince with runcible spoons. Edward Lear (1812-1888), the acknowledged master of the limerick, described his own work as “nonsense, pure and absolute.” His limericks were sometimes rude and occasionally gruesome but always funny.
Limericks of some shape and form were known to exist centuries before Lear made them popular; from the classical Greek poetry to Shakespeare and later day Irish verse, the AABBA meter has found a place. The name itself is believed to have originated from the Irish town of Limerick where a game around such extempore verse was played regularly in pubs.
In the 20th century, poet Ogden Nash celebrated the limerick with his witty and often risqué rhymes in the tradition of the best of them.
There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comments arose
On the state of her clothes,
She replied, "When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez."
Cut to the present. Limerick stories are no longer limited to men with long beards or women with sharp noses from faraway places. The form has now lent itself to contemporary themes ranging from Google to the London Underground. There are tongue twister limericks and twitmericks – limericks in the twitter format (or is it the other way around?).