NB: the following post contains strong language that some readers may find offensive:
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical.
- But the good ones I’ve seen
- So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical
On the 200th birthday of Edward Lear, it seems appropriate to celebrate that strange and much misunderstood literary form, the limerick. Lear (celebrated here by a true fan, Michael Rosen) is often described as the originator of the limerick … but:
2/ Lear never used the term “limerick” himself;
3/ Lear’s “limericks” deviate from the usual form, in that the first and last lines end with the same word rather than rhyming. Some people find this charming;
4/ Finally (and imho) most importantly, Lear’s “limericks,” whilst containing some delightful “nonsense” and wordplay, are not obscene, rude or scatological – essential qualities of a real limerick. Wikipedia puts it well:
For the most part they [Lear's 'limericks' -CC] are truly nonsensical and devoid of any punch line or point. They are completely free of the off-colour humour with which the verse form is now associated. A typical thematic element is the presence of a callous and critical “they”. An example of a typical Lear limerick:
There was an Old Man of Aôsta,
Who possessed a large Cow, but he lost her;
But they said, ‘Don’t you see,
she has rushed up a tree?
You invidious Old Man of Aôsta!’
All of which brings me on to the true limerick – lewd, obscene and offensive - and the widely-acknowledged master of the genre, Robert Conquest. To the best of my knowledge, Conquest’s limericks have never been published in a proper collected edition, though several have appeared in his friend Kingsley Amis’s Memoirs and Collected Letters.
Here are some of the best:
A usage that’s seldom got right
Is when to say shit and when shite,
And many a chap
Will fall back on crap,
Which is vulgar, evasive, and trite.
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
There was a young fellow called Shit,
A name he disliked quite a bit,
So he changed it to Shite,
A step in the right
Direction, one has to admit.
That snobbish surrealist, Garsall,
Once did himself up in a parcel;
He addressed it ‘Lord Garsall,
The Keep, Garsall Castle’
And mailed it first-class up his arsehole.
There was old Scot named McTavish
Who went for an anthropoid ravish
But the object of rape was the wrong sex of ape
So the anthropoid ravished McTavish
Possibly my favourite, entitled AT THE ZOO:
There was plenty of good-natured chaff
When I popped in to fuck the giraffe,
And the PRZS
Could hardly suppress
A dry professorial laugh.
Kingsley Amis wrote a follow-up:
When I came back to roger the gnu
I was scarcely delayed coming through,
and the staff – most polite -
cried, “please stay overnight”,
it’s a priviledge granted to few.