A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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The limerick is Ireland’s most famous poetic export, a catchy light verse consisting of a series of five-line stanzas with an aabba rhyme scheme.

The limerick will never be labeled a literary classic, nor does it stand up to Ireland’s other rich and complex lyrical poetic forms, but it has enjoyed great popularity for more than two centuries. The five-line structure lives within the jokes, puns, pranks, and wisecracks of countless immortal and ordinary poets, making it one of the most famous English-language fixed verse forms. From pub to campus to nursery rhymes, the limerick lives on.

Rhyme: aabba
Structure: Five lines; other variations exist (but are rare)
Measure/Beat: Iambic trimeter in first, second, fifth lines; dimeter in third and fourth lines
Common Themes: Puns, travels, barroom humor, sex
Other Notes:
  • The form of jokes, puns, pranks, and bawdy humor
  • First couplet sets location and subject
  • Second couplet describes an action
  • Final line is a punch line, often shocking and/or humorous