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Poetry: The Forms and the History
Limerick, Naani and Pantoum

by Catherine Wilson (Age: 41)
copyright 01-22-2003


Age Rating: 10 +

Limerick

Limerick, a humorous verse form, the subject of which is often nonsensical but the structure of which is strictly prescribed. This definite pattern consists of five anapestic lines. Lines one, two, and five contain three metrical feet, and rhyme; lines three and four contain two metrical feet, and rhyme. Originally, limericks were delivered orally and served as commentaries on manners and behavior. The most famous of all limerick writers was the English painter and humorist Edward Lear. The following, from his Book of Nonsense (1846), illustrates the genre.

There was an Old Man of the Coast
Who placidly sat on a post;
But when it was cold, 
He relinquished his hold, 
And called for some hot buttered toast.

The term limerick (from a refrain in a popular song of the day) was first applied in the late 1890s to Lear's verse.

To help you get started, here's some helpful information about writing limericks. To begin, a limerick is a funny little poem containing five lines. The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other (A), and the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other (B). Here's an example:

There was an old man from Peru, (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
who dreamed he was eating his shoe. (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
He awoke in the night (B)
da DUM da da DUM
with a terrible fright, (B)
da da DUM da da DUM
and found out that it was quite true. (A)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

When you write a limerick, make sure that it has the same AABBA rhyme pattern. And, make sure it also has the same Da DUM da da DUM da da DUM rhythm pattern, too. To make sure, recite the poem, substituting "da" for all unaccented or unstressed syllables and "DUM" for all accented or stressed syllables, as I have done above. If your poem doesn't have a similar rhythm pattern, then you need to make some adjustments.

Ideas for new limericks can come from almost anywhere. For example, your city, state, country, or name. If your name is Tim or Jim, you could write something like this:

A Clumsy Young Fellow Named Tim

A clumsy young fellow named Tim (A)
was never informed how to swim. (A)
He fell off a dock (B)
and sunk like a rock. (B)
And that was the end of him. (A)

Notice that the rhyme pattern (AABBA) and the rhythm pattern (da DUM da da DUM da da DUM) are almost identical to patterns in the "Man From Peru" limerick.

Naani

Naani is one of the popular Indian Telugu poems. Naani means an expression of one and all. It consists of 4 lines, the total lines consists of 20 to 25 syllables. The poem is not bounded to a particular subject. Generally it depends upon human relations and current statements. This poetry was introduced by one of the renowned Telugu poets Dr. N. Gopi, presently working as vice-chancellor to Telugu University, Andhra Pradesh.

Bollimuntha Venkata Ramana Rao
January 13, 2002

In-between four walls
A loneliness with deep silence
Became paleness
When book accosts.

In-between
Language and slang
Arise the difference
Who are noble?

With pain
With commotion burnt out
Waving flow of intention
Oh! Whereís my pen?

Poetic expression
Economy of words
Story canvas
Knows only squandering.

Pantoum

A pantoum is a Malay form. It is written in quatrains and repeats whole lines in an interlocking pattern. The second and fourth lines of any stanza become the first and third lines of the stanza that follows. In the pantoum's last stanza, the first and third lines of the opening stanza are finally repeated as the fourth and second lines. The order of those lines can be reversed, but an ideal pantoum will end with the poem's opening line creating a kind of circle. Pantoums need not rhyme, but most certainly can. They can vary from two stanzas to as many as you wish to write.

PATTERN

First line
Second line
Third line
Fourth line

Second line
Fifth line
Fourth line
Sixth line

Fifth line
Seventh line
Sixth line
Eighth line

Seventh line
Third line
Eighth line
First line

Tomorrow is a Brand New Day

Barry Franklin
January 24, 2000

Tomorrow is a brand new day
Nothing will remain the same
Changing in a subtle way
Forget all those who are to blame

Nothing will remain the same
The sun is gone but will return
Forget all those who are to blame
And all the things they said that burn

The sun is gone but will return
It takes with it the fallen few
And all the things they said that burn
Another day begins anew

It takes with it the fallen few
Changing in a subtle way
Another day begins anew
Tomorrow is a brand new day


Ready to write them? Here are some tips:

The Limerick

Funny little poem containing five lines.
The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.

I included a syllable guide at the end of the lines for those, like me, whom the da Dum doesnít click for.

There was an old man from Peru, (A) (8-9)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
who dreamed he was eating his shoe. (A) (8-9)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
He awoke in the night (B) (5-6)
da DUM da da DUM
with a terrible fright, (B) (5-6)
da da DUM da da DUM
and found out that it was quite true. (A) (8-9)
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

OK, now that you know how to write a limerick with the correct rhyme and rhythm pattern, start writing!

The Naani

Consists of 4 lines.
The total lines consists of 20 to 25 syllables.
The poem is not bounded to a particular subject.

A Kiss
By Catherine Wilson

Lips meet. (2)
Electricity surges through me. (9)
I pulse with current. (5)
My circuit completed by your kiss. (9)

2 + 9 + 5 + 9 = 25

The Pantoum

The second and fourth lines of any stanza become the first and third lines of the stanza that follows.
In the pantoum's last stanza, the first and third lines of the opening stanza are repeated as the fourth and second lines but reversed.
An ideal pantoum will end with the poem's opening line- creating a kind of circle.
Pantoums need not rhyme, but most certainly can.

I personally found this poem form to be very enjoyable. There are always two lines that you donít have to think about because you are taking them from the stanza before it. If you look at my poem Late Night Dreams, you will see that I always start two of my lines with a preposition like while, in, at, as etc because itís easy to link a line to it.

Late Night Dream
By Catherine Wilson

While I dreamed late at night, A
I walked along a sandy beach. B
As the beach filled with soft sunlight, C
the blue ocean water was in my reach. D

I walked along a sandy beach B
as my cares were drifting away. E
The blue ocean water was in my reach. D
In the ocean, I planned to play. F

As my cares were drifting away, E
the sun rays kissed my skin. G
In the ocean, I planned to play. F
I held my breath and I dove in. H

The sunrays kissed my skin G
as the beach filled with soft sunlight. C
I held my breath and I dove in H
while I dreamed late at night. A

I hope this was a help to you. Enjoy!




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        02-22-2013     betterthingstocome        

Though I've rambled and thought about poetry all my life, until recently, I never really thought about the actual working mechanical parts or forms of poetry. This article inspired me to write "Just A Chick To You" using your Pantoum guidelines. Hope you take the time read it - if it gets published and let me know what you think. Again, new to the ins and outs of the form in poetry works. Thank you for posting such informative information.

        05-11-2011     Mae Futter Stein        

Hi Catherine,
These are some very good ideas for different forms of poetry. I will be trying a few of these in my future poetry writings. Thank you for the demonstration and examples. Well put.
Mae

        06-11-2009     Cynthia Baello        

Thank you for this very informative column and the complete delineation of different forms of poetry stated here, I really learned so much from reading this and we writers need more of these kind of writing. My knowledge of these are limited and now I am challenged to try new forms in my writing, thank to the descriptions and examples you demonstrated here.

        06-30-2007     Barbara Walker        

Hi!
I love limmericks.
I think each of the forms you wrote about could be an article in itself. I prefer not to mix them, it's just too demanding of a student learner. I say that especially because you've chosen your audience and now you need to cater to their needs, not to be overwhelmed by being inundated with too much information at a time.
I once learned a didactic message that can be applied here- it's put over in 4 letters, an acronym KISS which reminds us to keep it simple and sweet.
Please note what I believe is an error in your rhythmic analysis-He awoke in the night would be better described as Da da dum da da dum you missed the da of the a syllable from the word a-woke.
The boxes at the end of the third and fourth lines of your first limmerick, "old man at the coast" confused me and they are unnecessary or if you like to point out the rhyming lines, you need to find a better way.
I did not understand what a Naani is supposed to be about and would love to learn how to write one.
I was afraid you had finished your teaching and then after you returned to the limerick, you returned to teach more about the Naani. I'm eager to try it.
I loved reading about the pantoum and your example because it included me in your process and gave a very gentle and satisfying example of your own writing.
To conclude, than you for the lesson which I enjoyed.
I'd prefer 3 separate articles and did not understand why they were put together.
I'm looking forward to learning more from you and experimenting with the literary forms.



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