Form and Function

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.

— Morris Bishop

It needn’t have ribaldry’s taint
Or strive to make everyone faint.
There’s a type that’s demure
And perfectly pure,
Though it helps quite a lot if it ain’t.

— Don Marquis

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

— Anon.

A bather whose clothing was strewed
By winds which left her quite nude,
Saw a man come along,
And, unless I am wrong,
You expected this line to be rude.

— Anon.

There was a young lady … tut, tut!
So you think that you’re in for some smut?
Some five-line crescendo
Of lewd innuendo?
Well, you’re wrong. This is anything but.

— Stanley J. Sharpless

Plaint

There was a young fellow of Trinity
Who, although he could trill like a linnet, he
Could never complete
Any poem with feet,
Saying: “Idiots!
Can’t you see
what I’m writing
happens
to be
free
verse?”

— Anonymous

“Summer”

Future poet laureate John Betjeman wrote this at age 13 as a “prep” exercise:

Whatever will rhyme with Summer?
There only is “plumber” and “drummer”:
Why! the cleverest bard
Would find it quite hard
To connect with the Summer — a plumber!

My Mind’s getting glummer and glummer
Hooray! there’s a word besides drummer;
Oh, I will think of some
Ere the prep’s end has come
But the rhymes will get rummer and rummer.

Ah! If the bee hums, it’s a hummer;
And the bee showeth signs of the Summer;
Also holiday babels
Make th’porter gum labels,
And whenever he gums, he’s a gummer!

The cuckoo’s a goer and comer
He goes in the hot days of Summer;
But he cucks ev’ry day
Till you plead and you pray
That his voice will get dumber and dumber!

Time Saver

Ogden Nash invented a streamlined limerick he called the “limick”:

An old person of Troy
In the bath is so coy
That it doesn’t know yet
If it’s a girl or a boy.

Two nudists of Dover,
When purple all over,
Were munched by a cow,
When mistaken for clover.

A cook called McMurray
Got a raise in a hurry
From his Hindu employer,
By flavouring curry.

A young flirt of Ceylon,
Who led the boys on,
Playing “Follow the Leda,”
Succumbed to a swan.

Unrhymed Limericks

There was an old fellow called Hugger,
Who was captain and mate of a fishing smack;
When a yacht crossed his bows,
He said: “My word!
It’s an awfully good thing it wasn’t a liner.”

— Arnold Hyde

An American girl in Versailles
Said: “I feel so ashamed I could weep.
Ten days I’ve been here
And not gone to the Louvre.”
“Never mind,” said someone, “it’s possibly only the hard water.”

— Quoted in Anthony Burgess’ But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?

There was a young lady of Ealing
Who walked up and down on the window;
And there, for a while,
To vary her technique,
She practiced strathspeying and hornpipes.

— Allen M. Laing

There was a young lady called Dawes,
Went out to a dance without gloves;
Her ma said: “Amelia!
Should anyone dance with you,
He’ll take you for one of them actresses.”

— Anonymous

Feet Foremost

“Beheaded limericks” by Arthur Shaw:

A nice pot of gold that was mari,
Belonged to a dan that was harri,
When some cals who were ras
Filled their kets which were bas
She put up a cade which was barri.

A certain young pate who was addle
Rode a horse he alleged to be saddle,
But his gust which was dis,
For his haps, which were mis,
Sent him back to his lac which was Cadil.

In gonia once which was Pata,
A clysm occurred which was cata.
A gineer that was en
Lost his ture that was den,
In a torium there that was nata.

A chap was so pose that was adi
And the butt of such nage that was badi,
He solved that was re
Not to lay that was de
In taking steps cal that were radi.

Express

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parovoz_FD_Kartina.jpg

Panegyric to a train, from the Hurutshe people of South Africa:

Iron thing coming from Pompi, from the round-house
Where Englishmen smashed their hands on it,
It has no front it has no back.
Rhino Tshukudu going that way.
Rhino Tshukudu no, coming this way.
I’m no greenhorn, I’m a strong, skillful man.
Animal coming from Pompi, from Moretele.
It comes spinning out a spider’s web under a cloud of gnats
Moved by the pulling of a teat, animal coming from Kgobola-diatla
Comes out of the big hole in the mountain, mother of the great woman,
Coming on iron cords.
I met this woman of the tracks curving her way along the river bank and over the river.
I thought I’d snatch her
So I said
“Out of the way, son of Mokwatsi, who stands there at the teat.”
The stream of little red and white birds gathered up all of its track
Clean as a whistle.
Tshutshu over the dry plains
Rhino Tshukudu out of the high country
Animal from the south, steaming along
It comes from Pompi, the round-house, from Kgobola-diatla.

(Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, 1968; Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, 2012.)

Mnemonic

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archimede_-_Langetti.jpg

This French alexandrine encodes π to 126 decimal places:

Que j’aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages!
Immortel Archimède, artiste ingénieur,
Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur?
Pour moi, ton problème eut de pareils avantages.
Jadis, mystérieux, un problème bloquait
Tout l’admirable procédé, l’œuvre grandiose
Que Pythagore découvrit aux anciens Grecs.
Ô quadrature! vieux tourment du philosophe!
Insoluble rondeur, trop longtemps vous avez
Défié Pythagore et ses imitateurs.
Comment intégrer l’espace plan circulaire?
Former un triangle auquel il équivaudra?
Nouvelle invention: Archimède inscrira
Dedans un hexagone; appréciera son aire,
Fonction du rayon. Pas trop ne s’y tiendra:
Dédoublera chaque élément antérieur;
Toujours de l’orbe calculée approchera;
Définira limite; enfin, l’arc, le limiteur
De cet inquiétant cercle, ennemi trop rebelle!
Professeur, enseignez son problème avec zèle!

Translation:

How I like to teach this number useful to the wise.
Immortal Archimedes, artist, engineer,
In your opinion who could estimate its value?
For me, your problem had equal advantages.
Long ago, mysterious, a problem blocked
All the honorable process, the great work
That Pythagoras revealed to the Ancient Greeks.
Oh quadrature! Old philosopher’s torment
Unsolvable roundness, for too long you have
Defied Pythagoras and his imitators.
How to integrate the plain circular space?
Form a triangle to which it is equivalent?
New invention: Archimedes will inscribe
Inside a hexagon; will appreciate its area
Function of a ray. Not too much to hold onto there:
Will split each previous element;
Always the calculated orb will approach
Will define the limit; finally, the arc, the limiter
Of this disturbing circle, an enemy too rebellious
Teacher, teach its problem with zeal.

I don’t know who came up with it — Alfred Posamentier traces it as far back as the Nouvelle Correspondence Mathematique of Brussels, 1879.

Epigram

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_Jordaens_-_Het_oordeel_van_Midas.JPG

Midas, they say, possessed the art of old
Of turning whatsoe’er he touch’d to gold;
This modern statesmen can reverse with ease —
Touch them with gold, they’ll turn to what you please.

— John Wolcot (1738-1819)

Lament

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Lovesickness_of_Frey.jpg

She who is always in my thoughts prefers
Another man, and does not think of me.
Yet he seeks for another’s love, not hers;
And some poor girl is grieving for my sake.
Why, then, the devil take
Both her and him; and love; and her; and me.

— Bhartrhari, 5th century CE, translated from the Sanskrit by John Brough