Saturday, 8 October 2011


06:25:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , , , , 7 comments

By Ashley Lister

Like others on this blog, I have favourite poems. Ordinarily I cite Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ as my favourite because I think it’s dramatic and beautifully structured. Sometimes I might mention something by Shakespeare just to show I’m a classy type of bloke what has got a proper education and knows his sonnets and stuff.

However, when someone asks me to recite a verse off the top of my head, I automatically go to the limerick. I’ve written of my passion for this particular form of poetry before on this blog. But, previously, I skirted around the pleasure I take from vulgar limericks.

There once was a man from Nantucket

Who kept all his cash in a bucket.

His daughter, called Nan

Ran off with a man

And as for the bucket, Nan took it.

I recite this version in class because it’s more acceptable than the obscene version. I’ve reprinted the obscene version below with the offending language carefully censored.

There once was a man from Nantucket

Whose **** was so long he could suck it.

He said with a grin

As he wiped off his chin,

“If my ear was a **** I could **** it.”

Why do I like the limerick? It’s fun. It’s vulgar (and those who know me will probably appreciate that I enjoy dallying with vulgarity). But it’s also a legitimate form of poetry exemplifying balanced meter and disciplined rhyme schemes. It is characterised by the a-a-b-b-a rhyme scheme. And it’s fairly easy for anyone to attempt.

A vice both obscene and unsavoury
Kept the Bishop of Barking in slavery
With horrible howls
He deflowered young owls
That he lured to his underground aviary.

The sophisticated rhyme scheme in the previous limerick is quite remarkable. The three syllable rhyme (ay-var-ee) at the end of lines 1, 2 and 5 is a powerful reminder of the poem’s strong construction. The same can be said for the rhyme in lines 3 and 4 (ow-uls). Not bad for a throwaway verse based on a bishop having sex with owls.

There was a young woman from Leeds

Who swallowed a packet of seeds

Within half an hour

Her **** grew a flower

And her **** was a bundle of weeds.

In this limerick the rhyme on lines 3 and 4 depends on a diphthong. Again, the double impact of the sound reinforces the poem’s rigid form. Even the bimoraic syllables in lines 1, 2 and 5 (potentially weighted as trimoraic or superheavy when you take into account the final consonant cluster of the /ds/ sounds) add to the imposing structure of the form. Or, without the academic goobledegook: the strong construction can be heard because of the careful use of repeated multiple syllable sounds. Such constructions don’t just happen by accident.

There once was a young man called Paul

Who had a hexagonal ball

The square of its weight

And his ****’s length (plus eight)

Is his phone number – give him a call.

As others on this blog have shown this week, there are some remarkable poems out there that deserve to be regarded as favourites. But, as I hope these examples show – even the most vulgar of anonymous rhymes can hold a deserved place in our affections.



Lara Clayton said...

Great post Ash! I love how this post has your distinctive tone, yet it has also been given an injection of the academic. It works well, and was a thoroughly interesting read.

Ashley R Lister said...


Thank you. As you know, I've spent the last month reading up on syllable weights and mora/morae so I wanted to show off the knowledge as though I'm really clever :-)


Barbara said...

Ah I thought this post was going to relate to a song - Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain but then I realised you're probably too young to remember it!

Anonymous said...

Damned right I'm too young to remember it. Thanks for reading, Barbara.


Ste said...

Maybe I'm too innocent but I'm struggling to fill-in the blanks on the young woman from Leeds one! Thouroughly enjoyable post - did give me a laugh and a lesson :)

vicky ellis said...

I also struggled with filling in the blanks. This would make an interesting handout for one of your classes. Teenagers are more likely to succeed :)

You are the patron saint of Limericks Ash.

Ashley R Lister said...

Vicky & Ste,

Thank you both. I got quite a kick from censoring these. I was vaguely aware that some of the words became completely obscure, but that was part of the attraction. Perhaps I should have left vowels in there, like some annoying game of hangman.

But, as Vicky suggests, it's something to share with teenagers. This is how they can help us members of older generations :-)