How to Check My Limerick Poem
A limerick is a humorous poem with a bouncy beat. Its rhythm, rhyme pattern, and syllable count are easily identifiable. However, its form isn't entirely rigid. Syllables, or beats, per line may vary depending on the needs of the poem's rhythm and story.
What is a Limerick?
Limericks are defined by their meter, or beat, as well as their rhyming pattern and content. Meter is described based on units of unstressed and stressed syllables. To stress a syllable means to emphasize it.
Many poets write in two-syllable metric units called iambs, which somewhat mimic natural speech by placing emphasis on the second syllable of each unit.
However, limericks achieve their bounciness through anapestic meter. Similar to a polka, anapestic poems have a "one-two-THREE, one-two-THREE" rhythm.
A limerick usually contains five lines.
As to rhyme, it follows an AABBA pattern with the first, second and fifth lines rhyming and a couplet between at lines three and four. Depending on the age and purpose of the poet, the content may range from funny stories about friends or animals to bawdy jokes.
What are Meter and Rhythm?
One way to understand the meter of a poem is to compare it to other poetic language that doesn't seem to match its style.
Shakespeare wrote in iambs, metric units that sound like "da DAH/ da DAH/ da DAH."
Here is a line of regular speech with stresses placed in iambic meter: "neVER/ evER/ ask ME/aGAIN!"
In contrast, each anapestic unit -- called an anapest -- of a limerick sounds like "da da DAH."
Here is the first line of a teacher's limerick, with third-syllable emphasis added:
"a mosQUIT/ o was HEARD/ to comPLAIN."
Basic limerick form usually contains three anapests in lines one, two and five along with two anapests each in lines three and four. If you like to count syllables, think of it as a 9-9-6-6-9 pattern.
According to the Writer's Digest website, although limericks are not rigid about number of syllables per line, a count of 8 to 10 is normal in the "A" lines with "B" lines generally containing 6 syllables.
History and Content of Limericks
Limericks are named after the Northern Ireland city of Limerick and may have originated in the early 18th century as lewd yet funny poems created by Irish soldiers.
A century later, they were popularized as children's poetry by the Edward Lear, an Englishman who enjoyed silly rhymes.
Limericks are referred to as light verse, because of their playful beat, rhyme, content and habit of containing tongue twisters.
In the teacher's poem about the mosquito's woe, lines three through five say: "The cause of his sorrow/ was paradichloro-/ triphenyldichloroethane."
A Limerick Checklist
Checklists are good for more than grocery lists, auto maintenance and packing for travel. Some academics use them for analyzing poetry. They can also help you polish a poem so that all its elements work smoothly.
Use this list of questions to check whether your poem is a limerick. If you can answer "yes" to all questions, you've written a limerick!
- Is your poem humorous or downright cheeky?
- Does your poem have a five-line stanza pattern?
- Does it follow AABBA rhyme?
- Does it follow syllable count - 8 to 10 for long lines and 6 for short ones?
- Does it use an anapestic meter?
Alicia Rudnicki's Library Mix website blends book buzz for all ages. A gardener, she writes for California's Flowers by the Sea nursery. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in education from CU Denver, and has taught K-12.