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Инфоурок / Иностранные языки / Другие методич. материалы / Amusing genre of English poetry. Limericks

Amusing genre of English poetry. Limericks

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Limericks are certainly not a modern invention. In fact, they are so old; nobody is quite sure how they started. To our mind the strongest and the most convincing point of view is that Irishmen began writing verses in rather peculiar way. It was about 800 AD. They did not have jokes in them in those days but they all had five lines and they all went with a swing when you said them. We would like to draw your attention that nobody knows for sure why a limerick is called limerick, but it is also the name of one of the most famous town in Ireland.


Looking deeper into information about limericks we have found that Irish soldiers sang the popular song “Will you come to Limerick?” In fact, a good limerick is not an easy thing to write. When you read them, you might think they are simple to invent, but they are not because there are rules you have to stick to. A limerick is composed of five lines, with lines one, two and five being longer than the third and fourth lines. That seems easy enough. However, there are strict rules that must be followed in the construction of these lines. The keyword is metre (meter). In a sense, the metre is the beat or the rhythm of the lines. Limericks are meant to be funny. They contain hyperbole, onomatopoeia, idioms, puns and other figurative devices. The last line of a good limerick contains the punch line or heart of the joke. As you work with limericks, remember to have pun, we mean fun! Say the following limericks out loud and clap to the rhythm. Limericks should generally follow proper rules of grammar and usage, with word orders as natural as possible. Of course, speech can be substandard; pretentious, stilted etc., when appropriate to the speaker. Punctuation should be standard, except for the first words of lines being capitalized. This genre can and does take more low usages than other form of poetry.

According to David Finley, it is very important to avoid akward inversions. His preference is to make the first line substantive. We firmly believe that limericks are a form of poetry that everyone happy to try. Moreover, limericks as a form of poetry have survived the test of time dating back for centuries!

Coming back to the history of limericks in 1820 a set was written called “Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Young Ladies”; then another one came out called “The History of Sixteen Wonderful Women”. There were sixteen separate limericks, each one about a different old woman, and they certainly were a very peculiar a lot.

There was a young lady

Whose nose

Was so long that it reached

To her nose;

So she hired an old lady

Whose conduct was steady,

To carry that wonderful nose.hello_html_48bd0f08.jpg

One of the first complete books of limericks to be published was called “A book of Nonsense”. It was published in 1846 and the author was Edward Lear.

We’d like to call your attention to this man. He was actually a painter, so it seems strange he came to write nonsense, but it all started when he was working in the country mansion of Earl of Derby.

Edward Lear had been asked to do some coloured paintings of the Earl’s collection of parrots. As well as parrots, the Earl had a lot of grandchildren, and Edward Lear somehow had to keep them amused as well. So he started writing his limericks, and go with each one, he drew a little sketch. The Earl of Derby’s grandchildren thought these were great fun and “A Book of Nonsense” was published. There were seventy-two limericks in two volumes. Now these limericks are under our observation.

There was an Old Man of the Wrekin

Whose shoes made a horrible creaking

But they said, “Tell us whether,

Your shoes are of leather,

Or of what, you Old Man of the Wrekin?”

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared!

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!”

It’s a regular brute of a Bee!”

There was an Old Man of Kilkenny,
Who never had more than a penny;

He spent all that money

In onions and honey,

That wayward Old Man of Kilkenny.

There was an Old Man with a flute,

A sarpint ran into his boot;

But he played day and night,

Till the sarpint took flight

And avoided that man with a flute.

There was a Young Person of Smyrna,

Whose Grandmother threatened to burn her;

But she seized on the cat,

And said, “Granny, burn that!

You incongruous Old Woman of Smyrna!”

There was an Old Man on a hill,

Who seldom, if ever, stood still;

He ran up and down,

In his Grandmother’s gown,

Which adorned that Old Man on a hill.

There was an Old Person of Chili,

Whose conduct was painful and silly,

He sate on the stairs,

Eating apples and pears,

That imprudent Old Person of Chili.

There was a Young Lady whose chin,

Resembled the point of a pin;

So she had it made sharp,

And purchased a harp,

And played several tunes with her chin.

There was an Old Person of Hurst,

Who drank when he was not athirst;

When they said, “You’ll grow fatter”

He answered, “What matter?”

That globular Person of Hurst.

There was an Old Man with a gong,

Who bumped at it all day long;

But they called out, “O law!

You’re a horrid old bore!”

So they smashed that Old Man with a gong.

These limericks have remained popular over the years.

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.

We can find limericks even in the plays of great Shakespeare “Othello”, “King Lear”. These humorous poems with five lines, the first two rhyming with the last are among, the merits of William Shakespeare plays. We’d like to pay your attention that his humor was based on absurd situations in these limericks.

Moreover Lear has been translated into all languages of the world. In Russia it was Marshak and Nabokov, then famous Kruzhkov and fruitful Fredkin, industrious Sabantsev. Kruzhkov called his translations only retelling. As for Nabokov, he thought it was rephrasing in Russian. And only Arhiptsev insisted that he had translation. Judge yourself.

There was a Young Lady of Russia, Who screamed so that no one could hush her; Her screams were extreme, No one heard such a scream As was screamed by that lady of Russia.

Есть странная дама из Кракова: Орет от пожатия всякого, Орет наперед И все время орет – Но орет не всегда одинаково.

Перевод В. Набокова

(В кн.: В. Набоков. Другие берега. Нью-Йорк, 1954)

Жил-был мальчик вблизи Фермопил, Который так громко вопил, Что глохли все тетки И дохли селедки, И сыпалась пыль со стропил.

Перевод Г. Кружкова

(В кн.: Книга NONсенса. М, 2000)

Юная дева одна из России Вдруг оглушительно заголосила; В дальних краях, где они прозвучали, Воплей, подобных таким, не слыхали, Что издавала гражданка России.

Перевод Ю. Сабанцева

(В кн.: Эдвард Лир. Книги нонсенса. СПб, 2001)

Голосила девица в России, Хоть ее помолчать и просили; Слушать не было сил, Сроду не голосил Так никто, как девица в России.

Перевод Б. Архипцева (2002)

Perhaps one could hardly dignify that by calling it true poetry, but it certainly qualifies as verse, both comic and curious, and is sometimes called nonsense verse. It’s interesting for us to translate and illustrate some limericks.

There was an Old Man of Vienna,

Who lived upon Tincture of Senna;

When that did not agree,

He took Camomile Tea,

That nasty Old Man of Vienna.

Жил-был старикашка из Вены,

Пил чай из какого-то сена.

Если кто-то серчал,

Он пил ромашковый чай –

Препротивный старикашка из Вены.

There was an Old Person whose habits,

Induced him to feed upon rabbits;

When he’d eaten eighteen,

He turned perfectly green,

Upon which he relinquished those habits.

Жил-был человек необычный:

Он кроликов ел по привычке.

18 их съел –

Тут же позеленел

И с испуга оставил привычку.

There was a Young Lady whose eyes,

Were unique as to colour and size;

When she opened them wide,

People all turned aside,

And started away in surprise.

Глаза одной юной особы

И размером, и цветом особы.

Их она распахнет –

Так и ахнет народ

И отпрянет от юной особы.

There was an Old Man in a tree,

Who was horribly bored by a Bee;

When they said, “Does it buzz?”

He replied, “Yes, it does!”

It’s a regular brute of a Bee!”

На дереве жил старикашка,

И с пчелами спорил он страшно.

Мы кричали: «Жужжит?»

А он сверху кричит:

«Еще как! Но это не важно!»

Thello_html_6ba6d431.jpghere was an old person of Fife,

Who was greatly disgusted with life;

They sang him a ballad,

And fed him on salad,

Which cured that old person of Fife.

Thello_html_7de4d902.jpghere was an old man of the North,

Who fell into a basin of broth;

But a laudable cook

Fished him out with a hook,

Which saved that old man of the North.

If you turn off the main highway of English poetry, leaving behind Chaucer, Milton and Browing, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth, you will come across names like Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hood – all of whom wrote comic and curious verse. The goal of our project is to draw the pupils’ interest to these verses. We believe that our work can help students to deepen and to widen the knowledge about limericks. One of the best things about limericks is that they nearly always give you a giggle. Much has been written about limericks, but we think that our modest research will help the students at the English lessons and give them additional information.

In conclusion we would like to suggest a quiz to amuse the students:


1. The motherland of limericks is…

a) England;

b) Ireland;

c) Wales.

2. People began writing limericks about…

a) 32 BC;

b) 800 AD;

c) 1200 AD.

3. A limerick is composed of…

a) 5 lines;

b) 4 lines;

c) 8 lines.

4. What can be unusual in limericks?

a) grammar;

b) speech;

c) usage.

5. The first complete book of limericks was called…

a) “Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Young Ladies”;

b) “A book of Nonsense”;

c) “The History of Sixteen Wonderful Women”.

6. The author of the first complete book of limericks was…

a) Edward Lear;

b) David Finley;

c) The Earl of Derby.

7. “A book of Nonsense” was published in…

a) 1846;

b) 1820;

c) 1875.

8. How many limericks were included in the “Book of Nonsense”?

a) 72;

b) 29;

c) 131.

9. Edward Lear was actually…

a) a doctor;

b) a painter;

c) a writer.

10. Who used limericks in his poetry?

a) Keats;

b) Milton;

c) Shakespeare.


1 – b

2 – b

3 – a

4 – b

5 – b

6 – a

7 – a

8 – a

9 – b

10 – c


In 1960, a competition for the best limerick was by the “Daily Worker”. Many limericks were written by English pupils. Would you like to help them?

There was an old person of Deal

Who in walking used only his 1.

When they said, “Tell us why?”

He made no 2.

That mysterious old person of Deal.

There was an old lady of France,

Who taught little ducklings to 3.

When she said, “Tick-a-tack!”

They only said, 4.

Which grieved that old lady of France.

A cheerful old bear at the Zoo

Said, “I never have time 5.

When it bores me, you know,

To walk to and fro,

I revise it and walk 6.

There was a young lady named Esther;

She lived in the Country of Leicester.

She went for a walk,

Had a very long 7.

And found she had gone to 8.

There once was a girl named Sue,

Whose clothes were especially 9.

She fell in the mud,

And spoiled every 10.

This unfortunate girl named Sue.

There was once a girl named Ruth,

Who pulled out a very loose 11.

She started to cry,

Was afraid she would 12.

But instead she grew a new tooth.


1 – heel 2 – reply 3 – dance 4 – Quack

5 – to feel blue 6 – fro and to 7 – talk 8 – Chester 9 – new 10 – dud 11 – tooth 12 – die


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