Original edition cover of Edward Lear's "Book of Nonsense."
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"There once was a maid frae the braes,
Who was known for her eight straight jetés
Petronella would twirl, then she’d set,
What a girl!
And her dance still elicits great praise."
~Tim Wilson (RSCDS-San Francisco)
Happy Limerick Day with one of the only known Scottish Country Dance limericks in existence. Thanks, Tim! Another famous Limerick writer, the multi-talented Edward Lear, born this day in 1812, is now known mostly for his literary nonsense poetry and prose and for popularizing the limerick form, a humorous 5 line verse with a set rhyming scheme. Believed to have first appeared in England in the early 18th century, its name is generally taken to be a reference to County of Limerick in Ireland and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included the refrain "Won't you come up to Limerick?" Interestingly, many historical scholars of this rhyming form hold that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene - violation of taboo as part of its function! If you are waxing poetical today with a non-obscene Scottish Country Dance limerick, please share! ✍️
The Limerick Writer
May 12, the birthday of Edward Lear, is Limerick Day! The British poet and painter known for his absurd wit was born on May 12, 1812 and began his career as an artist at age 15. His first book of poems, A Book of Nonsense (1846) helped to popularize the verse form.
The limerick is a form of poetry, especially one in five-line meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The third and fourth lines are usually shorter than the other three.
The following example is a limerick of unknown origin:
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.
The origin of the name limerick for this type of poem is debated. The name is generally taken to be a reference to the City or County of Limerick in Ireland, sometimes particularly to the Maigue Poets, and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included a refrain that included "Will [or won't] you come (up) to Limerick?"
Here are some unusual ones:
A Scottish example (where the name Menzies is pronounced ming-iss.
A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies.
The British wordplay and recreational mathematics expert Leigh Mercer (1893–1977) devised the following mathematical limerick:
(12 + 144 + 20 + 3 * sqrt(4))/7 + (5 * 11) = 9^2+0
This is read 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.
And for possibly the only limerick referencing Scottish Country Dance, we have this:
"There once was a maid frae the braes, Who was known for her eight straight jetes. Petronella would twirl, then she’d set, What a girl! And her dance still elicits great praise."
For some famous poems, recast as limericks, click the vintage kilt-related limerick cartoon from the 1903 "The Limerick Up To Date Book" published in San Francisco.