Philosophical Limericks

Cried the maid: “You must marry me, Hume!”
A statement that made David fume.
He said: “In cause and effect,
There is a defect;
That it’s mine you can only assume.”

— P.W.R. Foot

Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury thought
Life was nasty and brutish and short;
But contracts, once made,
Would come to our aid,
And ensure modest comfort — at court.

— Peter Alexander

There was a young man who said: “Ayer
Has answered the atheist’s prayer,
For a Hell one can’t verify
Surely can’t terrify —
At least till you know you are there.”

— Anonymous

Scattered Stars

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

That’s Walt Whitman. In 2000, mathematician Mike Keith noted a similar idea in Psalm 19:1-6:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language,
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven,
And his circuit unto the ends of it:
And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

So he married them by rearranging the psalm’s letters:

When I had listened to the erudite astronomer,
When his high thoughts were arranged and charted before me,
When I was shown the length and breadth and height of it,
The Earth, the horned Moon, the chariot of fire,
The hundredth flight of the shuttle through heavyish air,
How soon, mysteriously, I became sad and sick,
Had to wander out, ousted, charging through the forest,
Joining the sure chaos here in a foreign heath,
Having forgotten the vocation of the learned man,
And in the mystic clearing, once more looked up
In perfect silence at the sermon in the stars.

(Michael Keith, “Anagramming the Bible,” Word Ways 33:3 [August 2000], 180-185.)


There was a young fellow called Hall,
Who fell in the spring in the fall;
‘Twould have been a sad thing
Had he died in the spring,
But he didn’t, he died in the fall.

— Anonymous


Prince Hamlet thought uncle a traitor
For having it off with his Mater;
Revenge Dad or not —
That’s the gist of the plot —
And he did — nine soliloquies later.

— Stanley J. Sharpless


A quirky old gent, name of Freud,
Was, not without reason, anneud
That his concept of Id,
And all that Id did,
Was so starkly and loosely empleud.

— Martin Fagg

“If you dream,” said the eminent Freud,
“Your Id is in doubt, or annoyed,
By neuroses complex
From suppression of sex,
So passions are best if enjoyed.”

— Russell Miller

Sigmund Freud says that one who reflects
Sees that sex has far-reaching effects,
For bottled-up urges
Come out in great surges
In directions that no-one expects.

— Peter Alexander

Said Freud: “I’ve discovered the Id.
Of all your repressions be rid.
It won’t ease the gravity
Of all the depravity,
But you’ll know why you did what you did.”

— Frank Richards

A Tennis Poem

If in my weake conceit, (for selfe disport),
The world I sample to a Tennis-court,
Where fate and fortune daily meet to play,
I doe conceive, I doe not much misse-say.

All manner chance are Rackets, wherewithall
They bandie men like balls, from wall to wall:
Some over Lyne, to honour and great place,
Some under Lyne, to infame and disgrace;
Some with a cutting stroke they nimbly send
Into the hazzard placed at the end;
Resembling well the rest which all they have,
Whom death hath seiz’d, and placed in their grave:
Some o’re the wall they bandie quite away,
Who never more are seene to come in play:
Which intimates, that even the very best
Are soone forgot of all, if once deceast.

So, (whether silke-quilt ball it bee, or whether
Made of course cloth, or of most homely lether;)
They all alike are banded to and fro,
And all at last to selfe same end do goe,
Where is no difference, or strife for place:
No odds betweene a Trype-wife and your Grace:
The penny-counter’s every whit as good,
As that, which in the place of thousands stood.
When once the Audit’s full cast up, and made,
The learned Arts, well as the manual Trade:
The Prisoner and the Judge upon the Bench:
The pampred Lady, and the Kitchin-wench:
The noble Lord, or, Counsailor of State,
The botchy-Lazer, begging at the gate,
Like Shrubs, and Cedars mingled ashes, lye
Without distinction, when they once do dye.
Ah for unpartiall death, and th’homely grave
Looke equall on the free man and the slave.

So most unpartiall umpires are these twain,
A King with them’s but as a Common Swain.
No upper hand, ‘twixt dust of poore and rich,
No Marshall there to sentence which is which;
And onced resolv’d to powder, none can ken
The dust of Kings from dust of other men:
But as at Chesse, when once the game is doon,
The side which lost, and that as well which wonn,
The victor King, and conquer’d pawne, together
Jumbled, are tumbled to th’same bagge of lether,
Without regard whether the pawne or King
Therein lye uppermost, or underling.

Nathlesse all sorts, each sexe of purpose winke,
And of this destinie doon seldome thinke,
Living, (alacke), as life should never faile,
And deeme of death but as an old wives’ tale.

— William Lathum, 1634

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


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
to be

— Anonymous