Limericks!

A quick note on a few studies on the limerick I have read or re-read recently.

Scheepers, Christoph, et al. “Listening to Limericks: A Pupillometry Investigation of Perceivers’ Expectancy.” PLoS ONE 8.9 (2013): e74986.

The abstract appears to confirm what limerick lovers, at least those who appreciate the Nonsense kind, already know, i.e. that rhyme is the dominating parameter, but of course the essay says much more and deserves to be read in full:

What features of a poem make it captivating, and which cognitive mechanisms are sensitive to these features? We addressed these questions experimentally by measuring pupillary responses of 40 participants who listened to a series of Limericks. The Limericks ended with either a semantic, syntactic, rhyme or metric violation. Compared to a control condition without violations, only the rhyme violation condition induced a reliable pupillary response. An anomaly-rating study on the same stimuli showed that all violations were reliably detectable relative to the control condition, but the anomaly induced by rhyme violations was perceived as most severe. Together, our data suggest that rhyme violations in Limericks may induce an emotional response beyond mere anomaly detection.

In a similarly scientific perspective, limericks are mathematically analysed by Kevin Jones in “Self-similar syncopations: Fibonacci, L-systems, limericks and ragtime” (2000), and you can read comments on the essay here. Do you want to know what a real Fibonacci poem (or Fib) looks (or sounds) like? Read this short description.

“How Come the Translation of a Limerick Can Have Four Lines (Or Can It?)” is the captivating title of Gideon Toury’s 1999 article from Word, Text, Translation: Liber Amicorum for Peter Newmark, eds Gunilla Anderman & Margaret Rogers. Clevedon etc.: Multilingual Matters, 1999, 163-174.

Bob Turvey has published two interesting articles on the fortune of the form:

“Kipling and the Limerick.” Kipling Journal 77 (2003): 8-20.

“The Limericks of Algernon Swinburne.” The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 20 (2011): 63-72.

If you enjoy this kind of thing, here is the umpteenth rewriting of Lear’s “nonsense rhymes;” one advantage is that much of it can be read on Google BooksEdward Lear and My Father. Compiled by Barbara Whitehead. Bloomington: Author’s House, 2014.

More original is Jim Puder’s attempt to rewrite some of Lewis Carroll’s poems as limericks in “The Forgone Limericks of Lewis Carroll.” Word Ways 44.1 (2011). I posted the four original Carroll limericks and a short note here. Puder’s article asks, but does not answer, the right questions:

Why did Carroll publish no limericks as an adult? Did he fear that if he did, he might be seen as trying to emulate Lear? Or had he simply come to regard the limerick as being too hackneyed a verse form to have any artistic currency? The question is an intriguing one, but the focus of this article is upon another speculation of likely interest to limerick devotees, namely this: supposing that the adult Carroll had produced limericks for publication, what might they have looked like?

Another Carroll limerick I had never seen is also presented:

Happily for posterity, Carroll did inadvertently bequeath to it one limerick penned in adulthood. In books and other items given by him as gifts, he was in the habit of inscribing short poems to the recipient, among which may be found this undated verse addressed to a Miss Vera Beringer:

THERE was a young lady of station,
‘I love man’ was her sole exclamation;
But when men cried, ‘You flatter,’
She replied, ‘Oh! no matter,
Isle of Man is the true explanation.’

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