How to Write a Limerick by Esther Spurrill-Jones, The Word Artist

An illustration of the fable of Hercules and the Wagoner by Walter Crane in the limerick collection “Baby’s Own Aesop” (1887) under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

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.
Leonard Feinberg, The Secret of Humor (Rodopi, 1978)

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.
-Edward Lear

Most people have heard or read a limerick, even if you don’t read poetry as a rule. A limerick is one of the most fun forms of poetry, as it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Lear by Wilhelm Marstrand / Public Domain

Edward Lear is probably the most famous, or at least the most prolific, limerick writer. He is credited with popularizing the form. His pieces are pretty much pure nonsense, while other poets often create “bawdy” limericks.

A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme and rhythm. The rhyme scheme is aabba and the rhythm is anapestic (dadaDUM). This gives the poem a bouncy feel that suits the light subject matter.

Lines 1, 2, and 5 are anapestic trimeter and lines 3 and 4 are anapestic dimeter. This means the first, second, and last lines have three stressed syllables, while the third and fourth have only two. With the two unstressed syllables for each stressed, the lines don’t feel overly short. There are nine or ten syllables in the longer lines and five or six in the shorter ones. There is some variance in syllable count as you can drop the first unstressed syllable of each line if you like.

Technically you can use the limerick form for any subject matter you like, but if it’s not silly, is it really a limerick? Here’s one I did with more serious subject matter. Does it feel like a “real” limerick? I don’t know. I don’t really think so.

Spring is a season of birth,
As winter lets go of the earth.
The days become longer;
The light becomes stronger,
And we put off our furs and go forth.

The style doesn’t really lend itself to the subject matter that well. Nonsense words fit better, don’t they? But you can do whatever you like if you write your own.

Here’s a better one I wrote recently:


If you don’t have the money to cover,
And the debits come out and go over,
Be sure that the fees
Will advance your unease,
And assist you in going e’er lower!

It’s not nonsense, but it is a kind of dark humour.

You’ll notice that I used some near rhymes rather than exact rhymes. For more information on how to do this, check out my article on rhyming HERE.

Now, it’s your turn. Find something silly or annoying or whatever to write about and try your hand at crafting a limerick. Have fun!

Originally published in The Writing Cooperative, a Medium Publication. Shared here with Esther’s permission.

© 2020, Esther Spurrill-Jones

ESTHER SPURRILL-JONES (Esther Jones, I Just Live Here) is a poet, lover, thinker, human. She tells us, “I am not an open book although I wish that I could be. A part of me is all you see—the rest is hidden deep inside. Words have always been my art. They dance for me and sing for me. They laugh for me and cry for me. They are my paint and brushes. They are my clay.”  Connect with Esther: FacebookTwitterMediumInstagramBlog; Email; Amazon.

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