Isaac Asimov, that sensuous dirty old man, was not prepared for the nature of the thunderous storm of approval that greeted his book Lecherous Limericks. He had rather thought it would be audible. Within the first six months of publication, dozens of copies had been sold. Naturally, Asimov felt he owed it to humanity to give it more of his tremendously successful verse.
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There was a young woman named Susan Who found it completely amusin 9 To make love to three men Although who did what when Was frequently rather confusin'.
A woman who lived in St. Paul Had breasts undeniably small Her husband growled, "Dear, Why not burn your brassiere? It's fulfilling no function at all. Copyright by Isaac Asimov All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. Consider the limi- tations as far as the form alone is concerned: 1.
It must consist of five lines: no more, no less, 2. The rhyme scheme must be a, a, b, b, a. That is, the first, second, and fifth lines must rhyme. The third and fourth lines must rhyme also, but they must have a different rhyme from that of the first, second, and fifth lines.
The first, second, and fifth lines must consist of three feet each; that is, each must contain three stressed syllables. The third and fourth lines must con- sist of two. This means there must be thirteen feet to the limerickno more, no lessdistributed among the lines exactly as I have indicated.
The typical foot of the limerick is an anapest. That is, it consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one: dih-dih-DAH. All thirteen feet of the limerick can be anapests, but it is quite usual for 6 one or two of the initial feet in the lines to be iambic; that is, to consist of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one: dih-DAH.
The rhyme may be masculine, involving a single syllable such as "main" and "plain"; or it may be fem- inine, using two or even three syllables, such as "mea- sure" and "treasure" or "healthier" and "wealthier. The two different sets of rhymes in the limerick can be ei- ther both masculine, both feminine, or one masculine and one feminine. What is just as important as the metrical rigidity of the limerick is the nature of its content, 1.
The limerick must represent a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This, in itself, is a neat trick considering that the longest legitimate limerick can only have forty-nine syllables and that it can be as short as thirty-four syllables.
The limerick I have quoted above tells the tale of the appalling mis- fortune that overcame two young lovers and does it completely in forty syllables. The limerick must be humorous; that is, if it is to be a real limerick, and not merely a set of lines that just happen to have the limerick form. For instance, in The Yeoman of the Guard, W. Gilbert includes a song that begins as follows: A man who would woo a fair maid Should 'prentice himself to the trade.
He should study all day In methodical way How to flatter, cajole, and persuade. As far as rhyme and meter are concerned, this is a perfect limerickbut only as far as those are con- cerned.
It is neither complete nor funny; nor, to do Gilbert justice, was it intended to be, in itself, either complete or funny. At least part of the humor should be expressed by the cleverness or unexpectedness of the rhymes. Here, for instance, is a limerick that I recently made up for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of New York of which I am a member : A certain unmusical Persian Had a curious sort of perversion.
He thought that the part That was words was by Art And was sure that the tunes were Gilbertian. This is an "in" limerick and not for general con- sumption, because only the Gilbert and Sullivan fa- natics would know at once that "Art" was Sir Arthur Sullivan; and that to think that the libretto of the great operettas was by Sullivan and the music by Gilbert was the ultimate in perversion of all that is holy and proper.
Yet even a profound Gilbert-and-Sullivanian, hear- ing the initial rhymes of "Persian" and "perversion" would not be likely to guess that I was holding "Gil- bertian" in reserve. Naturally, rhymes of this sort cannot be used in serious poetry because they elicit laughter in them- selves and can therefore only be used in comic verse. It follows from this that the limerick is not, and is never intended to be, serious poetry. In fact, so firmly has the limerick established itself as comic verse, that any poet attempting to write serious poetry in the lim- erick meter, even if he used only the most somber of rhymes, or no rhymes at all, would find it difficult to 10 be taken seriously.
The humor should be vulgar and should deal with actions and words concerning which society pre- tends nonexistencereproduction, excretion, and so on. This is not an absolute requirement and you can, indeed, have "clean" limericks. My limerick about the unmusical Persian is an example. Clean limericks, however, lack flavor, like vanilla ice cream or pound cake. They are perfectly edible, but, to my taste, are tame, flat, and unsatisfying.
The "vulgar" limerick usually called the "dirty" limerick has its value because to the humor of rhyme and the challenge of metrical rigidity it adds the relief of release.
You can relax, for the space of some two score syllables, the bonds of social decorum that hold you in thrall most of the time. The sad tale of the hon- eymoon couple named Kelly is an example of com- pletely successful vulgarity. Many limericks end the first line with a proper noun, of either a person or a place. Such proper nouns come in all kinds of sound patterns and give you a starting platform.
You then need to find only two rhymes to it. If the proper noun is difficult to rhyme, the limerick becomes an exercise in ingeniuty. Or do you refer to my figure? When recited, however, the words can be slurred in such a way that they become excellentand hilariously un- expected.
This makes the limerick satisfactory, for, ideally, the limerick should be recited, and the written form is merely a guide to minimize forgetfulness. Sometimes, the directions for the spoken version are made explicit in the written version as when the last words of lines two and five in the limerick above are written "pigua" and "figua.
It can be insulting to the reader, and it can degenerate into a cheap snatch at orthographic humor. Many limericks start off: 'There was a young woman of. Here is a limerick not mine of this type: There was a young lady of Yap With pimples all over her map. But in her interstices There lurked a far worse disease That is commonly known as the clap. This is complete, vulgar, and contains one of the cleverest rhymes I have come across: "interstices" and "worse disease.
The laugh comes there and the fifth line verges on the anticlimactic. Let the other requirements be fulfilled, and these first line failures are forgiven and, indeed, are not even no- ticed. As I said earlier, limericks should be recited. Well recited, they are funnier than they can possibly be in cold printbut there are precautions you must take.
For heaven's sake, don't recite a limerick unless you are sure you are syllable perfect. If you forget and stop, all value is lost. If you forget and improvise and come out with a syllable too few or too many, the ef- fect is greatly weakened. In reciting the limerick, emphasize the rhythm and rhyme just a little bit. You're not supposed to do this in reading serious poetry, but a limerick isn't serious poetry.
By proper emphasis you get across the humorous aspects of the limerick more efficiently. It helps in this respect if each line ends at a natural pause, if the words do not "run on" without a natural pause from one line to the next. I have my own private feeling that a limerick should be occasionally sung, if you have the voice for it. Limericks are an Anglo-American tradition, and so are comic songs, and why not combine the two? My own favorite tune for limericks is the one to which the Gilbertian "A man who would woo a fair maid" is sung may the shade of Sullivan forgive me!
If you don't know the tune, any Gilbert and Sullivan addict will teach it to you. If you do sing a limerick, don't sing too many of them, for the tune will pall. Indeed, don't recite too many of them at one time, for the whole thing will pall. The most effective limerick is almost always the one you recite first.
The funniest limerick in the world will get no more than a snicker if it comes fifth. I mentioned, earlier, the limerick as an Anglo- American tradition. I have no doubt that limericks can be written in almost any language, but I have the feeling that no language other than English can create the limerick as easily, as numerously, or as humorous- iy. The fact that the form and meter are so rigid means that the story you want to tell must be shuffled a bit, adjusted, molded, shaped.
A syllable must be added here and dropped there. The result is that you must be ready at all times with a set of synonyms and substi- tute phrases. As it happens, English has the largest vocabulary of any language.
It is strongly idiomatic and has an al- most anarchically loose spelling and grammar. All this means that English is precisely the kind of triple- jointed language you need for endless adjustment until, finally, it folds up neady into the five-line, two-rhyme limerick. Well, I am a limericist. There's no such word, as far as I know. I have coined it myself, and it means, as is obvious, "one who writes limericks.
As far as I know there has been no collection of lim- ericks by a single author other than those of Edward Lear, who started the craze ever published. In fact, most successful limericks are of disputed or even anonymous authorship.
Let me be the first then to pro- duce a sizable book of completely original limericks barring always accidental or subconscious duplica- tions in part. The limericks included in this book, let me say at once, are vulgar, and almost all of them are concerned with sex. If you are going to be offended by "dirty" limericks, please put the book downit is not my wish to offend you. However, there is vulgar and vulgar. A limerick can be merely vulgar without being clever.
It can reach for shock value only, be more unpleasant than it has to be, repellent or even nauseating. I have tried never to overstep the bounds I have set myself. If my limericks are vulgar, they are light- hearted and never more vulgar than they have to be. Most of all, I earnestly trust that each limerick is more clever and witty than it is vulgar, and that is what counts.
I can't hope to please each reader with each and every limerick, but my gamble is that almost every reader will find at least a large portion of the limericks amusing.
Lecherous Limericks - Isaac Asimov
There was a young woman named Susan Who found it completely amusin 9 To make love to three men Although who did what when Was frequently rather confusin'. A woman who lived in St. Paul Had breasts undeniably small Her husband growled, "Dear, Why not burn your brassiere? It's fulfilling no function at all. Copyright by Isaac Asimov All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. Consider the limi- tations as far as the form alone is concerned: 1.
Amongst all the various tomes Mr. Asimov produced were his noted works of science-fiction and science fact, and there were also his decidedly lesser-known volumes of obscene poetry which he collected together in a series of books starting with Lecherous Limericks in There was a sweet girl of Decatur Who went to sea on a freighter. She was screwed by the master -An utter disaster- But the crew all made up for it later. When I recited it, everyone laughed. Since that time I have been writing down limericks.
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