Which Irish city is connected to a verse form? The limerick, of course – you know, that clever five-line structure that narrates a brief story or anecdote, in witty rhyme, with the first, second and fifth lines rhyming and a little longer than the third and fourth lines (which rhyme differently), and with the fifth line serving as the punchline.
Edward Lear, a 19th-century English author of nonsense prose and verse, invented the limerick by all accounts, although the form did exist without definition a hundred years earlier, as in the nursery rhyme Hickory Dickory Dock.
But a fifth punchline? Not in Lear’s work, for the most part. In fact limerick connoisseurs (if we can call them that) pooh-pooh Lear’s habit of simply repeating, or slightly modifying his first line, as in: “There was an Old Man with a nose, Who said, ‘If you choose to suppose, That my nose is too long, You are certainly wrong!’ That remarkable Man with a nose.”
Retaining the link between limericks and nursery rhymes is an octogenarian author who goes by the single name Arthur, who writes a blog wherein he ‘versifies’ many famous verses into limericks.
Here’s Three Blind Mice; “Have you heard of the tale of three mice, It’s a tale I shall tell, though not nice. A wife with a knife Nearly cost them their life, They would not take their parents’ advice.”
In the early 1900s limerick competitions run by newspapers generated huge revenues for the postal services. The paper provided the first four lines, and a contestant would submit the fifth, and the wittiest one adjudged would be the winner.
When accomplished wordsmiths compose a limerick you can be sure of some extraordinary wit, as in this effort by Jeremiah and Karen Farrell: “Spelling can be sometimes quite odd. There’s no T in China... While in each Bonnet, There’s a B on it: And merely one P in a Pod”.