National Limerick Day, held every year on May 12, pays homage to the man who made the short poems widespread — Edward Lear. Lear was an English poet who is known for his nonsense-style, often writing with made-up words, telling tales of “Quangle-Wangles,” and “runcible spoons.” He wrote 212 limericks, most of which didn’t follow the specific rhyming rules of the style. Although the by definition limericks have five lines, Lear’s were often shown in three or four, to give space to his accompanying illustrations and drawings. (A favorite of his: “There was an Old Man of Peru, who watched his wife making a stew; But once by mistake, In a stove she did bake, That unfortunate Man of Peru.”)
The origin of the poem’s name is a bit disputed, but most people believe it comes from the Irish city of Limerick. With just fine lines, the first two rhyming with the fifth line, and third and fourth lines rhyming together, limericks are quick, funny poems. Although popularized by Lear, limericks first started to emerge in England in the 18th century. Most limericks begin by describing a person and place, and then the rest of the lines describe that person’s actions. Limericks can be vulgar or crude, and are often inappropriate. Lear liked it that way—he considered “clean” limericks to be average at best. More recent limericks have turned toward current events and social issues.
Why We Love National Limerick Day
A. They let us be creative
Limericks are short and easy to write. It’s a great way to put pen to paper and bust out a few poems! Think up kooky characters and situations, and put them together in a quick poem. Impress your friends by writing a couple and see which ones they like best!
B. They are of the people
Not everyone loves poetry. Some can be hard to understand, or a little too humorless and emotional. Limericks offer a fun way to still be poetic, without taking themselves too seriously. Not every poem has to be 100 lines long without any rhyming. Limericks live a little and make you laugh!
C. They remind us of our youth
Remember English class and learning about poetry? We can still hear our English teacher’s voice reciting these melodic lines: “Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, and down he run. Hickory dickory dock.”
How to Celebrate National Limerick Day
1. Write your own limerick
The zanier, the better. Get together with a group of friends to see who can come up with the funniest, most nonsensical five-liner to pay homage to Edward Lear. When you come up with your best draft, make sure to share it with the world using #nationallimerickday. You could become a famous poet! Or, at the very least, get a retweet or two!
2. Take a poetry class
Try your hand at the limerick five lines, and then expand to other types of poetry. A sonnet is a rhyming poem with 14-lines, while a free verse poem doesn’t have any rules and lets the writer play around with lines, rhyming, and even punctuation. Many libraries offer community writing classes, along with city recreation centers. Check one out and get creative!
3. Take a trip to Limerick, Ireland
Only the most bold of limerick lovers will take this option. Book a flight to the poem’s country namesake, and spend some time in the land of Limerick! Take a boat tour along the River Shannon and visit St. John’s Cathedral. Visit the People’s Park and then stop by the Hunt Museum, where you can see original works from Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci.