(23 March 1997)
I've heard it said that there's no such thing as a good clean limerick. I would have to disagree; I like clean limericks. But then, most of the best clean limericks aren't really limericks at all. To be more precise, my favorite limericks are mostly the ones that play with or comment on the limerick form, directly or indirectly: meta-limericks of one kind or another.
Most ordinary limericks don't rhyme or scan nearly as well as I'd like; I figure if you're going to use a fairly strictly defined verse form (like limericks, haiku, double-dactyls, or sonnets) you ought to stick to the restrictions of that form unless you have a good reason not to (though admittedly limerick scansion is a good deal looser than that allowed for, say, double-dactyls). There are plenty of non-scanning limericks out there, especially in theatre games; I prefer the ones that either scan well or are quite aware that they don't, like this one (with no attribution I'm aware of):
And taking non-scansion in the opposite direction:
Playing with the rhyme scheme rather than the scansion, a renowned Victorian versifier wrote:
Even the number of lines is not a constant, as in this pair of anonymous items:
There was a young man from Peru
Whose limericks stopped at line two.
There was a young man from Verdun.
And then, as Elliott Moreton and Carl Muckenhoupt have been known to remark, there's the one about the Emperor Nero.
Some years back, Elliott and Carl produced The Oxford Book of Meta-Limericks (privately published, Oxford, MS, ca. 1989), now sadly out of print. The following limericks are quoted from that slim volume, by kind permission of the authors.
More limericks with pieces missing:
Some other self-referential limericks:
The idea of meta-limericks can be taken a step beyond limericks that comment on themselves, to self-referential items that claim to be limericks but (by the usual definition) aren't:
And finally, there are items that start out disguised as limericks but turn out not to be at all. These two don't even directly claim to be limericks, but they do bring up the question of their own limerick-nature:
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