I listened to a podcast of an interview of Christopher Hitchins at the Sydney Writers Festival. Hitchins has a great way with words and started to recite some limericks for the entertainment and edification of the audience.
Before getting to Hitchins' limericks let me quote the following definition of limerick which is funny in its po-faced seriousness:
A limerick is a five-line poem in anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (aabba), which intends to be witty or humorous, and is sometimes obscene with humorous intent.
And here is a limerick about limericks:
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
For those interested in the Hitch's suggestive limericks try this post.
His limeicks which follow, prove that clean ones can be still be entertaining.
Robert Conquest, the British Historian, wrote a limerick summarising the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It.
First a reminder of the Shakespear:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
And here is Conquest's five line version:
First puking and mewling
Then very pissed off with your schooling
Then fucks and then fights
Then judging chaps rights
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling
Conquest was a historian of the Russian Revolution, particularly the Stalinist Terror, so it is not a surprise that he wrote the history of the Revolution in a limerick.
There once was a fellow called Lenin
Who did two or three million men in
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in
Given that the limericks were chosen by Hitchins, naturally religion also gets a mention - specifically Calvin’s Theory of Predestination:
There once was a man who said damn
It is borne in upon me I am
A creature who moves in predestinate grooves
I’m not even a bus I’m a tram