Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Limericks for Mental Health

I write limericks to let off steam. Perhaps the rigidity of the form forces me into a more logical place in brain that is helpful when I am about to go over an emotional cliff. Limericks have been a source of glee and groans and, I think, sanity in our house since my husband and I got together. Though he is a classy and often hilarious man at the high level, there runs beneath his quick wit an indomitable sophomoric streak, often fueled by the limericks he memorized in his youth. Those include many I cannot publish here. According to the awesome Wikipedia:

“A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following example of a limerick is of unknown origin.

The limerick* packs laughs anatomical *(pronounced "lim'rick" to preserve meter)
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”

Here is one of David’s unclean favorites that (with two small changes) I think I can safely include here. He recites it whenever anyone mentions the woman’s name:

There once was a woman named Harriet,
Who dreamed she made love in a chariot
With seventeen sailors
A monk and two tailors
Dick Cheney and Judas Iscariot

David and I once won a limerick contest. We were traveling in Wales and stayed at a hotel that had once been a castle. The hotel staged a fake medieval dinner each evening in which, in addition to eating lamb stew with one’s fingers, the guests were invited to submit a limerick to a contest. The first line was given. “A Squire with a hole in his shoe.”

The wittiest Brit wrote took second place with:

A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Invented a substance called glue
The source was horse
He boiled it, of course,
And the smell killed a family in Crewe

But to the great surprise of all, David and I – two Yanks, no less – took first place with this little ditty:

A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Was badly in need of a screw.
With his tool in his hand,
He scoured the land,
But decided a small nail would do.

A few years ago, while renovating our apartment, an architect appointed by the building management was delaying our simple project for months and running up his bill, which we were required to pay. It was costing me sleep as well as lucre. While I lay awake at night, I preserved my sanity by writing a cycle of twelve limericks describing how an architect by his name destroyed every great building project in history. (I named the victim in my next book after him too.) I give you one stanza of my poem, concealing his name by substituting the words “Sir Note:”

To span an English river of renown,
“Let’s build London Bridge,” decreed the Crown.
But then enter Sir Note,
Who declared and I quote,
“If we never put it up, it can’t fall down.”

I will stop now. I promise. But not until I put in my proudest limerick achievement:

In the subways of Paris, his home
This elf forever will roam.
So if you hear “Tick tock.”
Don’t think it’s a clock
Undoubtedly, it’s Metro Gnome.

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. Utterly delightful and fun! Thank you - I needed that humor - after a week of tumult in my little kingdom!!! Not mercy, I ask, but merci I say, she quoth... No, I'm not a limerist - you and your ux sound like a terrific couple!! tjs

  2. What a great romp through words!!! Fun read!!!