The Key is Brevity – The Limerick Way

– By Vaughan Jones

Aspire to Inspire before you Expire

A couple of days ago I watched a tennis match that had Stefanos Tsitsipas as an opponent. After he’d won the match, he wrote the following on a television camera’s screen:


To inspire

Before you expire.

From a poet’s perspective, this blew me away. How is this for brevity, saying a great deal with a few words. This saying evidently is one of Eugene Bell Jr’s quotes.

Throughout my experience of writing poetry and verse I have been conscious of the poetic principle of brevity. This posed a challenge to write something meaningful using as few words as possible. Then I discovered the classical poetry styles using syllabic counts, a set number of syllables per line, or varying syllabic counts within a set pattern. This broadens the spectrum somewhat, but it introduces other difficulties.

Iambic poetry consists of iambs, or feet, which means that each iamb has two syllables – one unstressed and one stressed. For example, the word remark is an iamb, the “re” part is unstressed and the “mark” part is stressed. This creates the footstep sound, da dum, and so an Iambic Octameter will consist of rows with eight syllables, or four iambs(feet), as follows: da dum da dum da dum da dum. Eight syllables, four feet.

However, one does not need to complicate the writing of poetry if one uses open form, which requires no syllabic count, nor does it require rhyming, and there is no set number of lines per stanza (poetry verses). So, if you feel that writing poetry is your thing, get going with writing them in open form to start with.

Returning to brevity, I have forever been intrigued by the Limerick, which has only five lines, it has a strict rhyming scheme of AABBA, and a syllabic count of 8,8,5,5,8 for the five lines.

The best explanation of the limerick is that of  the British wordplay and recreational mathematics expert Leigh Mercer (1893–1977), who devised the following mathematical limerick:

As a limerick reads as follows:

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

To follow are a couple of limericks that I wrote years ago in response to challenges.

The Halloween Queen 

The ghostly figure of a queen

Appeared eerily at Halloween.

It sprang to the fore,

We charged for the door,

Spooked by the queen of Halloween.

The Trump Limerick

There's a con named Trump in the U.S,
He calls for the vote with much duress.
He thinks that he's a hit,
Proves to be a misfit,
And so, in truth, he fails to impress.

My next poetry article will cover the Japanese form of Haiku. The Haiku is interestingly very brief, but it uses words that broadly explain the message while the poem itself remains very brief.

Have some fun composing limericks and you are welcome to share them with me via my email address,

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


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