When we ask for a limerick, we want it to observe the following rules. Some of them are more rigid than some standards; others are more lax. The rules sound technical, but really they’re just explaining the concepts of rhyme and meter that you’ve probably grasped since nursery school. They’re pretty much the same standards as the ones used at OEDILF.com — the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form — to which you’re also welcome to submit your “Limerixicon” limericks once the results of our contest are published Sept. 2. In fact, I’m stealing some of the Oedilfers’ stuff right off their wiki.
For the purposes of our contest, this is what a limerick is:
■It’s five lines long.
■The rhyme scheme is AABBA — that means Lines 1, 2 and 5 rhyme with one another, and Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other. (See “What a rhyme is” below.)
■Limericks traditionally are made up of anapests; an anapest is the three-beat rhythm “da-da-DAH.” As OEDILF puts it:
So the basic form is:
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da BING
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da DING
da da DAH / da da BAM
da da DAH / da da WHAM
da da DAH / da da DAH / da da PING
Here’s an example of an Invitational limerick that’s exactly in the form above, by Stephen Gold of Glasgow, Scotland, whose very clever lims appear in both the Invite and OEDILF. I’ll boldface all the strong beats, the ones in all-caps above:
“I’ll be brief,” said the pelican. “We
Are so similar, me and BP;
Tarred and feathered. Those spills
Mean we both have huge bills.
High and dry, we’re completely at sea.”
■But they don’t have to start and finish with anapests! The Empress (as well as OEDILF) does NOT care if all the lines begin with the two weak beats of an anapest, and end with a strong beat. Instead, they can begin with one weak beat, or just come right in on the strong beat. Likewise, at the end of the line, you can add one or more weak beats as part of an extended rhyme (e.g., TALK-ing and WALK-ing; CRED-ible and ED-ible).
■In other words, what you absolutely must have, in each line, are strong beats separated by two weak beats.
In Lines 1, 2 and 5, that sounds like “HICK-or-y DICK-or-y DOCK.”
In Lines 3 and 4, that sounds like “DICK-or-y DOCK.”
But you certainly may have the extra weak beats at the beginning and ends of the lines — in fact, there should be at least one weak beat (better, two) between the last strong beat of one line and the first strong beat of the next line; there shouldn’t be two strong beats in a row. Those two weak beats can be on the same line, or at the end of one and the beginning of the next. But Lines 1, 2 and 5 must all end with the same number of weak beats (if any), as must Lines 3 and 4.