Celebrating Edward Lear:

The Limerick Challenge

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The Limerick Challenge

My son, Nate, is seventeen and loves writing. We were standing in the kitchen, talking about limericks when he said, "I wish someone would challenge me to a limerick contest." How could I pass that up?

We agreed we'd each write four limericks. But I added my own odd twist: each limerick had to include a word randomly selected from the dictionary. Nate asked that it be three words, leaving the last limerick open. Agreed. We then each took a turn opening a Websters, and my wife Alison did the finger-placing duty.

The three words we were stuck with:

howff -- a Scottish word meaning an enclosure, a haunt

fallow -- could mean a light yellow-brown color or when a farmer lets his fields unused for a time so as to replenish the soil

mink -- a small animal of the weasel family

We then went off and wrote independently, then read them aloud to the whole family one night.


According to the example set by Edward Lear, father of the limerick, they usually start out "There once was..." and often rhymed the last line with the first. Today, limerick writers try to make the last line more of a punch line. I have a page about Edward Lear, if you want to read more about him. All the artwork on these limerick pages are by Lear.


Nate's limericks

Bruce's limericks

There once was a ghost in the city
Who had his howff painted up pretty
Though the ghost wasn't scary
Or trespassers wary
He could sing out a very nice ditty.

Fallow had once gone a field
And no longer crops did it yield
Infested with daisies
For the farmer was lazy
That forgotten and much deprived field.

There once was a mink and an ermine
A loud and verbose pair of vermin
They sang through the night
But when it got light
The neighbors had set them to burnin'.

There once was a man hard of hearing,
With qualities not so endearing
His paintings were strange
People called him deranged
And his faces got children to fearing.

There was a old Scot named McGowff
Who lived in a ramshackle howff
Its walls were so porous
And his snores so sonorous
His wife and his children moved Sowff.

There once was a farmer so shallow
He left all his fields lying fallow
He sat around rocking
So if Fortune came knocking
He could open the door and shout, “Hallo!”

There once was a rich girl in pink
Who wore a live skunk for a mink
Said she, “It’s humane,
And I’d hate to complain,
But this odd new perfume makes me blink.”

There once was a brave lad named Nate
Who took on his dad in debate
Said his dad, “I’m not lying
When I say just for trying,
My respect for his gumption is great!”

After all the fun, we feel we need to declare a winner. As of Monday, June 13, Nate had a impressive 1503 votes, but Bruce wins with 1776. That's a fairly narrow victory. I think it would have been closer if I had disclosed that the week Nate wrote his limericks, he also took the SAT's and his AP History test. (Now you wish you DID cast a sympathy vote, don't you?) So keep voting if you want, but we'll chalk the first win up to Bruce. We say "first" because we've agreed to make this an annual event! It should be great fun again in May of 2006! Watch for it!

Want to comment on our limericks? Send us a note, and I'll post it below.

And thanks to all who have emailed me limericks about our limerick challenge! That was fun!

Reader responses: first the limericks...

From Marna

There once was a father and son,
Who wanted us to vote which one,
Created the best line,
Cause the rhymes were fine,
Its difficult to say who won.


From Avarel There once was a father and son
Who knew how to have lots of fun,
But there is no denying
That one will be crying
As soon as the other has won.

Two from
Sharon

There once was a fellow named Bruce,
Whose rhymings were rather profuse.
He put paper to pen, again and again
But the endings were always obtuse.

There once was a young man called Nate.
Whose writings were all quite ornate.
And while he was bolder, his father was older
But I dare say he'll catch up some day!


One from Jim

There once was a father and son, quite crazy
Limericks they wrote 'bout houses, fields and daisy
Father said, "Son, I'm better than you!"
Son replied, "Father, my thumb's turning blue!"
The meaning of rhyme is often so hazy.


One from my Aunt Jeanie

There once was a nephew, called Bruce,
Who challenged son, Nate, as a ruse,
To get him to write
And stay home every night
Instead of being out 'on the loose' !!!


And two from my brother

There once was a nephew named Nate
Who was smart and really great
He made up a rhyme
Just to pass time
And now the results, he does wait.

(And when I asked him if I could post it, he sent another...)

I remember a brother named Bruce
Who delayed in calling a truce
Tho the Limeric duel
Was exceedingly cruel
And a poetic fiend was let loose!

(I think he missed an "r" there. He meant to write "friend". Didn't you, Scott?)


Then there's this. My hat is off to our good friend, Jeanne Crago, who somehow worked into one limerick all three words! I don't think I'm ready to take her on in a limerick challenge!

There once through a fallow field bounded
A mink seeking how those poems sounded
He soon reached his howff
Checked the ‘net, dropped his mowff
'Cause father and son both astounded.


Other comments:

I just wanted to say that I thought that Nate's limericks were good, but honestly yours made me laugh.  It's been fun.  Kaloni from Tennessee

In my opinion, they were great and you should keep it up. Becky

Nate, I love your limericks! You have a knack for them. Kudos on the writing, I hope you will be able to put more of it to good use. Thank you for taking the time. Shannon

I admire any 17-year-old who has a big enough vocabulary to write a Limerick.  However, I about fell off my chair when I read the one about the skunk.  Diane

I really enjoyed reading your limericks! Nate did a great job, too. =) Thanks for the laughs .~ Rachel

Text © 2005 Bruce Van Patter & Nathan Van Patter
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