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

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Fun and easy.

Limericks are fun to create. They are humorous, often bawdy, full of folk wisdom, and delightfully entertaining. They are also easy to write. The subject matter is basic and often self-deprecating. With only three metrical feet on three lines, and two feet on the other two lines, carrying a beat is straightforward, fueling an uncomplicated rhyme scheme: aabba. Best of all, for spoken-word performers, limericks are as simple to think up and memorize as they are to write.

Natural and flashy.

The key to writing a limerick is to devise an opening line, and then let the verse tumble out – crazy though it may seem. The faster you roll with the verse, the more natural and flashy the limerick. That’s the goal.

Establish the subject.

The first line of limerick needs to establish the subject without giving the story’s intentions away:

There once was a man on the run

This line sets up a fast journey (he’s running, not walking). It also leads to a few quick questions: Why? Where to? Who is he? Questions like these should spring from the first line of a limerick, opening the floodgates to the poem.

When crafting this first line, don’t forget to fit your words into typical rhythm of the opener. Here’s that opening line one more time:

 There  once  was  a  man  on  the  run 

You’ll need an eight syllable line containing one iamb (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) and two anapests (two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable). Now, contorting your language into these metrical feet can be frustrating, but think of it as a game. Open up your thesaurus and find the best word that’ll fit to match your rhythm. Otherwise, you risk losing the special sound normally associated with the limerick.

Set up the action.

The second line defines the subject, or the consequences of a past action the subject took. Again, it is important to give the reader (or listener) this information to set up the action of the poem. The relationship between the first and second lines is made even stronger by the rhyme scheme.


Here you have two iambs and an anapest. This second line’s anapest matches the ending anapest in the first line. Not only do these two pairs of rhyming anapests help keep a consistent rhythm, but the rhythm also helps the rhyme ring true.

Make the switch.

The next two lines explain the action taken by the subject, which are the guts of the limerick. You’re now switching from trimeter (three metrical feet) to dimeter (two metrical feet), so make your two beats per line count.


The close.

Next comes the punch line. You can use wordplay, a surprise twist or a tongue twister. If you follow Edward Lear’s model of nonsense verse, his term for a limerick, the last line can be anything you’d like.

~x ~x~~x

Overall, the key to writing a limerick is to let your ideas fly through the poem while also bending and contorting the language into the proscribed rhythm and rhyme. This will make your surprising and humorous content slip right into the joyous sound of the limerick.