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ljlimericks's Journal

LiveJournal Limericks
Posting Access:
All Members , Moderated
A community dedicated to the creation of whimsical limericks!
Each week, we'll give you a prompt and ask you to pen (or rather type) a limerick. We'll be holding a weekly poll and publishing the winning limerick in the LiveJournal Newsletter. The winner will also receive a virtual blue ribbon!

Please keep your entries youth-friendly. The moderator will reject obscenity.

The moderator also reserves the right to reject submissions that aren't actually limericks. (In practice the moderator will accept - though probably not nominate - submissions that have the correct rhyming scheme and number of syllables, even if they don't strictly fit the meter.)

What is a Limerick?

A limerick is a five-line poem, written to be witty or humorous. It has a distinct structure, which we can describe in four rules.

RULE 1: It has a strict and very recognisable rhyming scheme: A-A-B-B-A.

It also has a strict rhythm, or meter. The rhythm is in repeated patterns of three, composed of one stressed and two unstressed syllables. Thus:

RULE 2: A proper limerick must have three stressed syllables in the first line, three in the second, two each in the third and fourth lines, and three again in the fifth.

RULE 3: Each stressed syllable on the same line must be separated by exactly two unstressed.

RULE 4: There may be no more than two unstressed syllables at the beginning or end of a line.

(As a consequence of these rules the limerick also has a fairly strict SYLLABLE COUNT. In its purest form this would give us five lines of 9, 9, 6, 6, and 9 syllables; in practice the lines can be as flexible as 8-11, 8-11, 5-6, 5-6, and 8-11 syllables.)

Um, that sounds complicated.

Once you hear what the rhythm sounds like it's actually pretty simple. Try saying the following out loud: "Amazing amazing amazing". That's a stress on the second syllable, which is called an amphibrach.

Then try saying "Understand understand understand". Feel the difference? Here the stress is on the third syllable, which is an anapest. These are the two rhythms that make up almost all limericks.

Finally, try saying "Melody melody melody". This is the dactyl, in which the stress is on the first syllable of every three. You may find it useful, though in practice it is extremely rare to find whole limericks written in dactyl form. Which is ironic, considering that "limerick" is itself a dactyl.

Essentially, however, they're all variants of the same rhythm; one stressed syllable, two unstressed.

Here are some examples that adhere very strictly to the amphibrach, the anapest and the dactyl forms:

A poet, I thought, was my calling
But critics all gave me a mauling
Though many were praising
My delicate phrasing
My rhythm, they said, was appalling

If I ever should fail to impress
With my limerick writing prowess
You could say I'm a hack
And I haven't the knack
Although I put it down to the stress

Limericks written for jollity
Even though brimming with quality
Often I find to be
Somewhat inclined to be
Lacking a certain frivolity

And that's the basics.

So a limerick has to follow one of those three forms all the way through?

Not necessarily all the way through. Each line must follow one form but the form can change from line to line. This can be useful, as it allows you to "carry" syllables from the end of one line to the beginning of the next, or vice versa.

This gives you a bit more creative freedom while enabling you to maintain the rhythm of three, not just within each line, but across the whole limerick. If you so choose.

Carry syllables? How does that work?

Here's an example:
There was a young boy from Tyree
Who was building a house in a tree

This starts out as an amphibrach but drops a syllable at the end, so the word "Who" is carried onto the next line making it an anapest.
Til he caused quite a clamour
by swinging his hammer
and bashing himself on the knee

While the second half starts out as an anapest, but there is an extra syllable on the end of "clamour". So to compensate it drops one at the beginning of the next line, thus switching back to an amphibrach to maintain the rhythm.

OK. But why mess around with carrying syllables? Can't we simply lose or gain a syllable if we happen to need it?

Well, yes, up to a point. That's what Rule 4 was about: there must be no more than two unstressed syllables at the beginning or end of a line. You could have just one. Or none. Really it depends how determined you are to maintain the rhythm of three across the entire limerick, rather than just in each line.

Note that you have more room to play around with at the beginning and end of the first two lines. The last three may be read as one long continuous line, so maintaining the rhythm across all three lines becomes more important.

Let's see how long the lines are allowed to go.

Long ago I consulted an oracle
Who warned of a fate diabolical
I thought it absurd
But in fact every word
Was spot on, if a touch metaphorical.

I see. So is that an anapest with two extra syllables stuck on the end, or a dactyl with two stuck on the front? Or an amphibrach with one extra at both ends?

Um... yes.