Celebrate Limerick Day

By Stephen Hyde
Posted in The Field Guide to Drinking in America, on May 10, 2016

You have two options this May 12th: you can do what you normally do, which is probably come home from work and then spend the next three hours on your couch watching reruns of Frasier, or you can grab a pint and celebrate Limerick Day, the only day of the year when you can talk in rhyme without inviting funny looks.

That’s right, May 12th marks the birth of Edward Lear, the man who popularized the traditional oral poetic form of the limerick in writing. Lear was several things—an artist, a composer, an early adopter of stylish facial hair—but he is most known for using literary nonsense in his poetry and prose, especially in his limericks. Lear’s 1846 Book of Nonsense treated readers to seventy-two delightfully silly limericks, each of which was accompanied by an illustration.

 

Even before Lear, the limerick could be heard in pubs across Ireland; the form was used between poets, each one trying to make the cleverest five line poem. That’s why the best way to celebrate Limerick Day is with a drink in your hand and a rhyme on the tip of your tongue. Ages prior to Lear's time, Shakespeare incorporated the limerick into several of his plays, including this boozy limerick from Othello, act 2, scene 3:

And let me the canakin clink, clink.

And let me the canakin clink.

A soldier’s a man.

A life’s but a span.

Why, then, let a soldier drink.

You don’t have to be a literary genius to create your own limerick. All you have to do is follow a very simple rhyming scheme—AABBA—where lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme and lines 3 and 4 rhyme. A healthy appreciation of puns and bawdy humor helps too.

Here is an exchange between two Irish poets Sean O’Tuama and Aindrias MacCraith that appears in John O’Daly’s 1850 The Poets and Poetry of Munster.

Seán Ó’Tuama:

"I sell the best Brandy and Sherry

To make all my customers merry,

But at times their finances

Run short as it chances,

And then I feel very sad, very".

To which MacCraith replied:

"O’Tuama! You boast yourself handy

At selling good ale and bright Brandy,

But the fact is your liquor

Makes everyone sicker;

I tell you this, I, your friend, Andy".

Be sure to limerick responsibly and check out Niki Ganong’s The Field Guide to Drinking in America for all your questions on drinking laws.