The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 14, 2022 1:00 am

A work of consequence? Lear's 'Book of Nonsense'

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

There once was a poet named Edward Lear, and in his time he had no peer. While others waxed haughty and metaphysical, Lear rhymed silly and metronomical, because limericks were good to his ear.

Thursday was National Limerick Day, celebrated annually on the birthday of Edward Lear, a 19th-century English poet who popularized the style.

“The holiday's exact origins are unclear,” said, “but National Limerick Day has been celebrated since at least 1984 on the birthday of Edward Lear, who brought limericks into the mainstream with his 1846 release 'Book of Nonsense.' ”

A limerick is a humorous or nonsensical verse usually consisting of five lines. The first and second lines rhyme with the fifth line, while the shorter third and four lines rhyme with each other.

“The subject matter for these little poems can be just about anything, although typically they are funny, witty, and feature turns of phrase and wordplay,” according to the Smithsonian Institute archives.

According to the Smithsonian's Jessica Scott, there is an obscure connection between the limerick and the Irish city of Limerick and/or County Limerick. The first mention of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, according to, comes from a letter from illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.

“The limerick may be the only traditional form in English not borrowed from the poetry of another language,” he wrote. “...John Ciardi suggests that the Irish Brigade, which served in France for most of the eighteenth century, might have taken the form to France or developed an English version of a French form.”

Regardless of the limerick's origins, the poem's style, at least in the United States, has put Nantucket at the epicenter of some raunchy rhymes repeated amongst friends. Those limericks are unprintable. What you giggle about in your own home is none of our business.

However, if you want to read Lear's G-rated “Book of Nonsense,” go to It's free.

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