From Mother Goose to Dr. Seuss, rhyming poetry has induced laughter in children for century after century. The enchantment of rhyme, while considered somewhat passé now among modernists, loses none of its magic on the richly imaginative minds of the young and can still make an adult or two chuckle. Here, Nivedita Karthik, a graduate in integrated immunology from the University of Oxford, offers two Irish limericks that show that rhyming humor can work for the old as well as the young today, just as well as it did in the past.
By Nivedita Karthik
There once was a very young rat
who thought himself a big, black bat.
So, he leapt off a chair
and flew through the air
Straight into the jaws of a cat!
The gown and the date are set,
caterers and florists I’ve met.
The hall has been booked,
no detail overlooked
Wait … I don’t have a groom just yet!
But, beyond these short rhymes, there is a great deal of potential in rhyme as a source of humor beyond what writers today generally imagine. Observe, for instance, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 work “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which is written entirely in rhyming verse and hilariously pits the unusually large-nosed titular French protagonist against himself and fate. (The 1990 French film adaptation with Gerard Depardieu is recommended.) Some of this ingenious rhyming potential can be seen here in Joshua Lefkowitz’s poem. Lefkowitz was a finalist for the 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize and has also recorded humor pieces for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and BBC’s “Americana.”
By Joshua Lefkowitz
When I struggle for sleep,
I dust off a classic
and try counting sheep:
Trouble is, my sheep show off,
they leap like Olympians
over their feeding trough—
They soar through the air,
blending into the clouds,
pirouette, land back down, where
the rest of the animals wait,
giving scores, mostly tens,
‘cept the East German pigs, 9.8.
It’s all rather amusing, only
I’m still awake, while you doze
by my side, and thus lonely
I nudge you and whisper, “Hi,”
to the which you groan, and reply,
“If you don’t shut up, you will die.”
Here, the rhymes work for adults better than for children, and the rhyming elevates what would otherwise be only a well-written soliloquy to the level of art.
While one is humorously rhyming, there is also the potential to make serious social statements in unique ways. This is an example of such by British poet and motivational expert James Sale:
Obi-Wan Bin Laden RIP
By James Sale
Let’s remember what God wants:
Killing people’s never right,
So Obi-Wan Bin Laden then
Cannot be a Jedi knight.
To make folks free you face them straight—
Backstabbing lacks God’s protocol;
So Obi-Wan Bin Laden looks
Like something that has lost its soul.
He’s hard to find on Dagobah,
Afghanistan or Alderon,
Where Obi-Wan Bin Laden hides—
But surely he’ll slip in the sun.
Then see his shade evaporate,
His loud excuses miss their course:
As Obi-Wan Bin Laden tries
Escaping but without the Force.
The use of “Star Wars” metaphors to talk about a mass murdering terrorist may seem, if not humorous, then strange at first, but when you think about it, it makes complete sense. How many troubled youth being raised today are the terrorists of tomorrow and are dangerously confusing good and evil? Thus, all at once, the poem delivers a necessary social message, a humorous satire, and effective rhyming poetry.
All poems used with permission of the poets.
Evan Mantyk is president of the Society of Classical Poets (ClassicalPoets.org). He teaches literature and history in upstate New York. You may send your comments, feedback, and, of course, poetry to Submissions@ClassicalPoets.org