Looking back with Limericks

Edward Lear, Limericks, and Nonsense: A Little Nonsense | NEH-Edsitement

Edward Lear (1812-1888) was an English artist, illustrator, poet and musician. However, he will be best remembered as the man who introduced the world to a new poetic form, to wit, the limerick. A simple definition of a limerick would run thus, ‘a kind of humorous verse of five lines, in which the first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines, which are shorter, form a rhymed couplet.’ Whether anyone else prior to Edward Lear, possibly an unknown pub crawler in the town of Limerick in the Republic of Ireland, discovered this refreshing, new poetic format or not will remain a matter for speculation. However, it is to the everlasting credit of E. Lear that the limerick became a household word when he brought out ‘A Book of Nonsense’ in 1846. Litterateurs around the United Kingdom took a somewhat snobbish and stand-offish attitude towards the limerick, dubbing it patronisingly as ‘nonsense literature.’ Evidently, they felt his first book was aptly named. Experts aver that his most famous limerick was this verse,

There was an Old Man with a beard
‘Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen
Four Larks and a Wren
Have all built their nests in my beard!’

The estimable Mr. Lear wrote as many as 212 limericks and they continue to be regarded as the gold standard as far as this particular style of verse goes –  never mind what Wordsworth or Coleridge might have thought of it, while they were ‘smokin’ up in Kendal,’ (according to Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison). One of the nice things about the limerick is that you do not require any special poetic talent to write one. Just follow the AABBA rule, as enunciated earlier and anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of pretty much any language can have fun writing limericks. One of my English masters in school had a special talent for penning limericks, and decided to write one on each of the junior cricketers for our school Annual. As we had won the junior inter-school shield one year, he felt this would be a novel way to commemorate the triumph, instead of writing hagiographies which was the sole preserve of the senior boys. I happened to be a proud member of that ‘Under 14’ team, but I kept getting run out or running my batting partners out with alarming regularity. I was thus immortalised with the following limerick:

Suresh hates playing in the damp
He says it gives him a cramp
But we hope next season
This won’t be the reason
For him being the run-out champ.

Every other boy in the team had something similarly unique versified about him. I still have that tattered, dog-eared Annual with me, a special treasure from my school memorabilia.

The limerick, because of the relative simplicity of its structure, has particularly lent itself to ribaldry and we have hundreds of examples of limericks that are clearly aimed ‘below the belt,’ in a manner of speaking. Most of them I would hesitate to reproduce here, seeing as this is what our software boffins would describe as an ‘open source’ forum and we do not wish to offend sensitive souls. That said, having tickled your curiosity, it would be grossly unfair it I did not, at the very least, reproduce a couple of acceptably racy limericks, that would pass the acid test of being allowed in polite company. And if some of you are still going to take umbrage, I am afraid prudery has no place here. As Dame Iris Murdoch put it in Latin, Sic bisquitus disintegrat or, ‘that’s how the cookie crumbles.’ Having covered my backside thus, here are two such examples.

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.

I like blokes, be they Brown, Jones or Smith 
Well my virtue is mostly a myth
Cos try as I can
I just can’t find a man
That it’s fun to be virtuous with.

In this blog, which is scheduled to hit the stands, metaphorically speaking, on New Year’s Day, I felt it would be a good idea to try my hand at writing a limerick, each on a variety of issues that has engaged the attention of the world and India during the recent past, and 2020 in particular. Politics, Sport, Covid19, Farmers’ Agitation, Personalities and so much more have taken centre stage at different points in time during the year. So, I doff my cap respectfully to Edward Lear for giving me this light-hearted format to enjoy and to imagine myself to be, just for one brief, shining moment, a modern-day poet. While I may have adhered strictly to the AABBA rule when composing these limericks, you’ll have to pardon my veering off the straight and narrow when it comes to observing metre and syllable strictures. Or structures. I mean, give me a break. With those few words, I scamper off the starting blocks.

India’s peripatetic PM Modi
Travelled far to the US to say ‘Howdy!’
He stole Trump’s thunder
Whose pride was rent asunder
Making the President look quite dowdy.

Joe Biden is to be the next President
A bit long in the tooth to make a dent
He has Kamala Harris in tow
Whose antecedents have caused a row
For her the White House could be heaven sent.

Finally, the Covid vaccine is born
The medical profession is blowing its horn
But how long will it take
For our labs the vaccine to make
Please God, let it not be a false dawn!

Over ‘Love Jihad’ the Government is up in arms
Raising forced religious conversion alarms
But all love is blind
To all religions that bind
And sees only the besotted one’s charms.

What is it about the blighted MSP and Mandis
That our farmers scream and the politician bandies?
Is the middleman on the take?
Is the farmer burned at the stake?
Or are the corporate suits the real dandies?

Still with the farmer’s on-going trouble
He says he simply must burn his stubble
The Government hummed and hawed
Finally gave in and thawed
But the MSP issue is still in a bubble.

Christmas Eve came and went with quiet dignity
For New Year’s Eve the public wanted no solemnity
Let’s party till we’re sozzled
And our eyes pop out razzle-dazzled
Kick out 2020 and embrace 2021 with serenity.

Mamata is livid with Shah and Nadda
How dare they spoil their cozy little adda
BJP says Bengal is burning
But the lady’s not for turning
She screams ‘Nadda, Fadda, Bhadda, Chadda.’

Rahul Baba jazzed off to Italy, again
His critics wondered if he had a brain
Some say he went to see Granny
Others say he needs a nanny
But Mummy’s praying he finds a Plain Jane.

India’s cricket captain King Kohli
Down Under was feeling pretty poorly
He rushed through the First Test
Tamely came off second best
And flew back home feeling lowly.

In Adelaide India were bundled out for thirty-six
At Melbourne we were not even in the mix
Kohli scarpered from the scene
But it was Rahane’s turn to preen
As he gave the Aussies the ultimate licks.

Rajini’s political debut had his fans on a roll
Our Thalaivar was a winner at every poll
Suddenly he felt the heat
Developed BP and cold feet
And decided the cinema will forever be his goal.

India are perennially fencing with China’s Xi Jinping
With neither country having any inkling
Of when to have peace talks
Or when to stop throwing rocks
A clear case of confused and muddled thinking.

As I conclude this contemplation on limericks and how they can be employed to comment poetically on any situation, I can’t help but share a mail I received from an English friend in London. It said simply, ‘What is this monkey bath your PM appears to be taking every month? I am intrigued. Kindly explain.’ On reflection, I decided not to respond directly. I thought it prudent to let my friend come to his own zany conclusions. On second thoughts, I sent him this limerick.

Our Prime Minister is adept at speaking his mind
Over the radio he leaves no topic behind
His reflections on ‘Mann ki Baat’
His critics decry as monkey bath
‘It’s a case of the blind leading the blind.’

It’s a good job the PM does not listen to his opponents. He just carries on regardless. Happy New Year. 


Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. A dash of Ogden Nash would have been in order.
    There was a young woman
    from Conneticut,
    Who waved the express train
    with her petticut,
    Which critics defined
    as absence of mind,
    But a deplorable conduct of

    Happy New Year. Great fun in store. Mamata, Nadda, many such Addas

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely one with great creativity. Besides monkey bath, there is also our Siddharamiah taking pride in Karnataka’s Vaangi bath. Enjoyable limerics.
    The brilliant one for me however was the naughty “I like blokes…” piece


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