If a limerick’s worth writing

it’s worth writing

it filthy

I have a theory about limericks and it’s this: While Edward Lear certainly didn’t invent them, he did popularise them. And he did that by being so spectacularly bad at them that the whole world said in one voice, “I can do better than that!” And then they did.

I wonder if Lear was trying to distract everyone from what must have been a vast crop of filthy limericks. There must have been plenty of them around at the time. The extent of my own research from that period begins with a list of the usual Lear stuff:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.

Edward Lear

There was an old man on the Border,
Who lived in the utmost disorder;
He danced with the cat, and made tea in his hat,
Which vexed all the folks on the Border.

Edward Lear

But it doesn’t take long for us to happen upon the following:

There was a young man of Cape Horn
Who wished he had never been born
Nor Would he have been
If his father had seen
That the end of the rubber was torn

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

There was a fat lady of Clyde,
Whose shoelaces once came untied;
She didn’t dare stoop,
For fear she would poop,
So she cried and she cried and she cried.


Not exactly filth, but you can see where we’re headed; after all it’s the human way.

  • Invent drawing – draw naked people
  • Invent literature – write dirty stories
  • Invent photography – filthy postcards
  • Invent moving images – what the butler saw

And so it was with poetry. And what better poetic form than the limerick. It’s jaunty rhythm makes it perfect for a bit of fun in a short amount of time. And it doesn’t take long for the human mind to seek out the gutter.

But, there’s more to a dirty limerick than you might think. For the best of them are little works of art. Trust me, I’ve seen some attempts that make you wonder if the poet has ever seen a limerick before let alone a sexual act. It’s all too easy to think a limerick can be a simple collection of dirty words about dirty deeds and pay no attention to how the whole thing scans.

Before we go any further I need to do this…





As I was saying, it’s not enough for a dirty limerick to be simply dirty, it has to be well written too. Take for example, that classic, The Man From Nantucket. Like many of you, I’d heard about this mythical rhyme from Homer Simpson, it’s always being mentioned but always in hushed tones and never, ever revealed in full. I had to know how this limerick went, but simply could not find out.

So I did what anyone would have done and wrote my own version. Obviously, it started with:

There once was a man from Nantucket

But then what? It seemed obvious, to me at any rate, that, “suck it” would rhyme quite nicely. And in a dirty limerick , things that get sucked, of the male sort, come in mostly one fashion. So I had my second line:

There once was man from Nantucket
Whose prick was so long he could suck it

Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Now, for our middle section. If he could suck it, would he? It seemed obvious that he would, men being men and all that, so there was my middle section:

There once was man from Nantucket
Whose prick was so long he could suck it
He would spend every day
Just gobbling away

But then what? sustenance? Doubtful. Surely he’d just spit it out so he could go back to gobbling:

There once was man from Nantucket
Whose prick was so long he could suck it
He would spend every day
Just gobbling away
And spitting his spunk in a bucket


And there we have it. My very own version of a classic limerick. Dirty? Certainly. Well written? I think so. It scans nicely and is easy to read. The story is complete and leaves no confusing unresolved plot devices. I think I can happily call my effort a success.

And then I found the original version. Written by my favourite author, Anon, and laid out here for study:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Wait! That can’t be right. It isn’t dirty, is a bit shit and, quite frankly, smacks of Lear.

And there’s more

But he followed the pair to Pawtucket,
The man and the girl with the bucket;
And he said to the man,
He was welcome to Nan,
But as for the bucket, Pawtucket.

What the fuck is going on? This is awful! And it goes on for a third verse:

Then the pair followed Pa to Manhasset,
Where he still held the cash as an asset,
But Nan and the man
Stole the money and ran,
And as for the bucket, Manhasset.

Well thank Christ that’s over. Had I been lied to? It was certainly looking that way. On the plus side, I now have a version, written by my own fair hands, than is, in my own humble opinion, miles better than this tat. But that can’t be right, I can’t have struck gold so easily can I?

No. Of course not. It turns out that the above Learesque garbage might very well be the original. But as with Lear’s limericks, somebody thought they could do better. And so, one bright morning, Anon strode forward into his or her garret and set themselves firmly to the task of improving on this god awful three parter. And, before days end, had come up with a single verse of sublime beauty:

There was a young man from Nantucket
Whose dick was so long he could suck it.
He said with a grin
As he wiped off his chin,
“If my ear was a cunt I would fuck it.”


Perfection. Far dirtier than my own attempt and yet it scans perfectly and fits nicely with it’s own inner logic. As Lear might have said, “That clever young man from Nantucket”.

But now I had the bug. Writing dirty limericks is a joy and practically essential for every poet to attempt. There are whisperings that our old friend, Anon, may well be more well known than we had thought. Rumours abound that many of the most well known dirty limericks were actually written by some very well known poets indeed. Tennyson, Joyce, Larkin and Yeats are all in the frame for some of our filthiest limericks. And who knows, maybe Emily Dickenson is the anonymous poet behind:

There was a young woman who lay
With her legs wide apart in the hay
Then calling a ploughman
She said, “Do it now, man!
Don’t wait till your hair has turned grey!”


But enough of rumour, I had work to do and started writing a few limericks of my own. And I set to make them as filthy as possible. My only problem now is, do I put my name to them? Part of me wants to have my name on everything I write so that credit is given where it is due, and also so people can find more of what they like should they so choose. But another part of me says, dirty limericks should be an anonymous gift to the world. Sent out to find their own audience and passed around to all who enjoy that sort of thing.

Well I just can’t decide. So while I have a think, you can have a read. Here I present my first attempts at this classic art form, the dirty limerick.

There was a young boy from Bombay
Of whom I have little to say
Except that with luck
He would give you a suck
And refuse to accept any pay


A Scotsman named Neddy McGurk
Found getting erections hard work
So he tried a blue pill
But it just made him ill
And left him with nothing to jerk


There once was a girl from the Wirral
Who tried having sex with a squirrel
But its tickly brush
Made her come in a rush
And it left the poor girl feeling quite ill


A woman who knows how to suck
Will never be down on her luck
For some men will pay
To find out what she’ll say
When they ask her if she gives a fuck


A boy who lay down in the flowers
Masturbated for hours and hours
He produced so much come
When a bee stung his bum
That he thought must have superpowers


There’s a whore on the Isle of Wight
Whose cunt is incredibly tight
If you go for a fuck
You’ll find yourself stuck
When you’re in her you’re in for the night


I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.

If you’d like to know more I can recommend the sadly out of print Penguin Book of Limericks, edited by E.O. Parrott and the sublime but hard to get hold of, Some Limericks by Norman Douglas.

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