Famous Poems Rewritten as Limericks.

This Wordorigins thread (derived from a Facebook post, shown as an image) is giving me so much pleasure I have to share my two favorites from it (so far). By NotThatGuy:

“Utnapishtim,” cried Gilgamesh, “Why
Do you get to live, while I die?”
“I can see that you’re vexed,”
[There’s a gap in the text]
The walls of Uruk are quite high!

By Dr. Techie:

There once was a king, Ozymandias,
Who no one had triumphed as grandly as.
But his statue fell down
In shards on the ground,
And now, nothing left but the sand, he has.

Mine isn’t as good (to be fair, I dashed it off pretty hastily), but what the hell, I’ll quote it anyway:

I was off to a wedding one day
When a crazy old man blocked my way.
As he clutched at my coat
He said “Once, on a boat…”
And I missed the whole wedding. Oy vey!


  1. If you can endure life’s nastiest tricks;
    If you can put up with your poem’s remix;
    If you can withstand;
    Then you’ll be a man
    Who can swallow such kippled limericks.

  2. Trond Engen says

    Pretty sure we did that too, in that that funny little Mandelstam thread in 2010.

  3. Trond Engen says

    Oh, I made the limerick in that thread. I recalled it as maybe being Ø.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    I think of the final phoneme of Ozymandias as /s/ rather than /z/. Do others pronounce the name of that defunct dignitary differently, or is a little slant-rhyme or mispronunciation-for-the-sake-of-rhyme just close enough for gov’t work in this context and I’m overthinking it?

  5. @J.W. Brewer: /…mændiǝs/ for me, but I’d say /…mændiæz/ for the sake of the limerick.

  6. What Lazar said.

  7. David Marjanović says

    By NotThatGuy:

    Truly he is two-thirds god, one-third man.

  8. There once was a guy called Ulysses
    Who tried to get home to his Mrs.
    It took him ten years
    And blood, sweat and tears,
    But he made it home to her kisses.

  9. Trond Engen says

    Anyone knows this?

    The earth, like an orange, is blue.
    Your love and your smile — yes, you do!
    The window, the bee,
    the sun, la-dee-dee…
    I wish I were sure it was true.

  10. That reminds me of the fellow who claimed to be two-thirds Cherokee, and when asked how that could be, replied “It’s simple. Both my parents are two-thirds Cherokee.” But gods, after all, transcend such mundane matters as diploidy.

  11. I was puzzled about Gilgamesh’s fractional ancestry for a long time. I knew that the Sumerians didn’t understand anything about genetics, but even so, it didn’t seem to make sense. But eventually I realized that if you don’t understand heredity or fractions, it’s not so absurd. Fractions may seem incredibly obvious today, but early on, even among city-dwelling people, some of whom were quite adept at whole number arithmetic, fractions might be very mysterious and easily misunderstood. It was not until the fourth century B.C.E. that Exodus of Cnidus set out the full theory of ratios of arbitrary numbers. The error with Gilgamesh was more basic, but also two thousand years older. The key fallacy, I believe, is this: He had three parents, and two of them were gods; therefore he was two parts god and one part man, or two thirds god.

  12. Trond Engen says

    More or less the same in Norwegian:

    Da Odyssevs av øya Itháke
    skulle hjem etter tokt på ti strake
    dreiv han rundt i en døs
    iblant trollpakk og tøs
    ti år til før han kom seg tilbake.

  13. Trond Engen says

    When Beowulf signed up with the Danish king,
    His men, one by one, had been vanishing.
    But for him ’twas no bother,
    Kill the beast, then it’s mother.
    (Monstrosity’s not just a manish thing.)

  14. Is “two-thirds of him god and one third human” even necessarily a statement of ancestry, per se?

  15. Stu Clayton says

    Not if you allow “emergent properties” in your model. Or transsubstantiation. Or misleading labelling. Or parthenogenesis. Or creatio discontinua.

    It’s a wise child who knows its own father.

  16. Putting in a request for Bashō. I don’t have the chops for it.

  17. To the conscious mind language is mysterious.
    Its systematic training of mind makes them delirious.
    It’s crystal clear in dreams,
    as to what linguistic meaning means.
    Yet, once again conscious the return to being hilarious.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    There once was a Japanese frog
    Near a pond perched on a log.
    It took a hop
    And made a plop,
    That phenomenal Japanese frog.

  19. There once was a fellow from Florence
    Who regarded the Guelphs with abhorrence
    He wandered nine levels,
    Of Hell, met the devils,
    And wrote down invective in torrents.

  20. (Greg Nagan did a more comprehensive version.)

  21. Bathrobe says

    Love the Wendy Cope limericks! But the Waste Land verily sets itself up for this treatment. (Can’t think of a better word than ‘verily’).

  22. @Y:

    The bronze temple bells toll away.
    The garden’s sweet blossoms still sway,
    Regale my nose with their scent.
    I feel sure that this meant.
    The perfect ending to the day.

  23. (Not a poem, but it came to me.)

    I was bored when they buried my mother.
    I told my girl I didn’t love her.
    Then I shot at some guy,
    And was sentenced to die,
    Which I don’t find to cause me much bother.

  24. Dante was certainly not pro-Ghibelline: he was a moderate who believed in non-overlapping magisteria (of Pope and Emperor).

  25. There was a young man
    From Cork who got limericks
    And haikus confused

    (Twitter @mutablejoe. In response to Y’s request for Bashō.)

    Of tangential relevance: the OED In Limerick Form project, noted by LH back in 2004, is still going strong, even though its website looks by now as if it dates from the time of James Murray.

  26. @Trond:
    Obvious cognates with German and my rudimentary knowledge of Danish are not enough to understand all of the Norwegian Odyssee. Can you give me an English gloss?

  27. Might as well do the Iliad:

    Queen Helen fell hard for a boy,
    And ran off to his native Troy,
    The Greeks were enraged,
    Ten years war they waged,
    And conquered that place with a ploy.

  28. Trond Engen says

    Da Odyssevs av øya Itháke
    When Odyssevs of the isle of Itháke

    skulle hjem etter tokt på ti strake
    were to go home after a campaign of ten subsequent (years)

    dreiv han rundt i en døs
    he drifted around in a haze

    iblant trollpakk og tøs
    among monsters and loose women

    ti år til før han kom seg tilbake.
    ten more years before he managed to get back.

  29. Tak!

  30. Iliad, take 2, closer to the actual content:

    Achilles once looted a beauty,
    But Big Boss took away his booty,
    He got into a funk,
    The Greeks’ hopes were sunk,
    Till Big A went back to his duty.

  31. And this is the last one, I promise:

    From Troy’s shores Aeneas did roam
    Right into Queen Dido’s new home.
    Wham bam thank you mam,
    Off to Lavinia I am,
    But please don’t blame me, just blame Rome.

  32. Post his painful redundancy, Satan,
    Found sittin’ in Hell most frustratin’;
    “I’ll tempt Man with an apple
    For sure that poor sap’ll
    Be kicked out of Eden, no waitin’.”

  33. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The key fallacy, I believe, is this: He had three parents, and two of them were gods; therefore he was two parts god and one part man, or two thirds god.

    Victor Henri, distinguished for his work in experimental psychology (with Alfred Binet), enzymology and physical chemistry, is considered by the French to be French, because he was born in Marseilles to supposedly “unknown parents”. In reality, he was wholly Russian by ancestry, with two mothers and one father. The two mothers were sisters, one of them married to his father, the other, his biological mother, not. After his birth in 1872 they repaired to St Petersburg to live as a ménage à trois and to bring up their son, who was then legally adopted by his father and his wife. It wasn’t a good idea to be illegitimate in 19th century Russia, even if your parents were rich minor aristocrats, and France was a much better bet. I don’t know why they chose Marseilles, but my guess is that they thought that in Paris or Nice they were more likely to run into people they knew. The whole thing was a blatant fraud, as the birth certificate indicating “unknown parents” was signed by the mayor himself, who would hardly have bothered for a baby whose parents were really unknown.

    Anyway, by my calculation Henri was one-third Krylov and two-thirds Lyapunov.

  34. David Marjanović says

    I once read the only macroscopic thing the Sumerians didn’t know is how long sperm keeps in an oviduct. They guessed at “till the woman’s menopause at least”, and therefore thought all men a woman had ‘known’ contributed to all subsequent children.

  35. Rodger C says

    Brett’s spellcheck turned “Eudoxus” into “Exodus.”

  36. What a pity, I noticed that “Exodus” and thought it was a cool name. No worse than “Beyoncé” at any rate.

  37. I can see naming kids Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, but when it comes to Numbers and Deuteronomy it would get a little weird.

  38. >>I can see naming kids Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, but when it comes to Numbers and Deuteronomy it would get a little weird.

    Well, there’s always Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath from Monty Python’s Life of Brian 🙂

  39. Numbers would do for a Damon Runyon character, at least as a nickname. (The thugs in the TV series “Fargo” were Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench.)
    Deuteronomy is a bit trickier though a search on LinkedIn finds at least one, a climate change mitigation specialist in Zambia. The rest of the Old Testament is dead easy as it’s mainly the names of people, and both Judge and King are used as first names at least in the US. The exception is Chronicle, which I can’t find on LinkedIn because it’s full of people who work for things called the Chronicle.

  40. Chronicles contains enough personal names, it doesn’t have to be one itself.

  41. I recently learned that actor Mahershala Ali’s first name is short for Mahershalalhashbaz, one name which I’d thought would resist even the most avid miners of obscure biblical names (the name literally means something like “soon-loots-hurries-despoils”.)

  42. “Makes haste to the slaughter”. At least according to the Dorothy Sayers character who used it as a name for her cat.

  43. Haste-spoil-speed-booty is the version I like. The point is that the first and third words are synonyms and so are the second and fourth.

  44. Haste-spoil-speed-booty
    I like that better.

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    One hears anecdotal claims that the old-timey New England Puritans sometimes named their kids by opening a Bible at random with eyes closed, putting their finger down somewhere on the page, and using the name closest to the finger. I don’t know how often that really happened but a few of my ancestors of that ilk have sufficiently-obscure OT names (e.g. Achsah and Uz, if memory serves) that it’s an appealing explanation.

  46. Earthtopus says

    There was at least one “Vashti” on the Reformed Presbyterian Yankee side of my family. Your explanation does have a certain appeal.

  47. J.W. Brewer says

    Your ancestral Vashti was not a one-off. There are enough recent bearers of the name to justify https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vashti_(disambiguation).

  48. J.W. Brewer says

    See also this venerable institution, founded in 1903 and named after the then-presumably-recently-deceased Mrs. Vashti Blasingame. http://www.vashti.org/history/

  49. Kerenhappuch is another, shockingly still current.

  50. Trond Engen says

    They are all fine names, but each of them should have been introduced in this thread as the defining rhymeword of a limerick.

  51. A woman named Kerenhappuch
    Went to Scotland to visit a loch.
    She glanced, then she muttered,
    “It looked so much better,
    In the painting once done by Van Gogh.”

    (If it’s not perfect, it might as well be awful.)

  52. The only trouble is that booty‘s other meaning is now dominant, except when speaking of pirates.

  53. Trond Engen says

    @Y: Not awful at all. A limerick needs a dose of offbeacity or else it will often sound flat. Not that I know how to achieve it in my own.

  54. I only see the Bialik one. It gets you the tacky award, easy. Carry on.

    (If you don’t read Hebrew, it’s a limerick version of Bialik’s On the Slaughter, one of the most famous poems in all of Hebrew literature, an angry, blood-chilling and beautiful response to the Kishinev pogroms.)

  55. I remember noticing Mahershalalhashbaz Ali’s name (which he hadn’t yet shortened) in the credits for the TV series “Crossing Jordan”, which also featured a character named Dr. Mahesh “Bug” Vijayaraghavensatanaryanamurthy (played by Ravi Kapoor).

  56. I tried to paste another one here twice and couldn’t see, maybe cause of the Hebrew, so apologies if this is my third comment saying this, but: Y, the rest are in the comments.

  57. I don’t see the comments. I’m not on FB. Are the comments hidden from guests?

  58. David Marjanović says

    Are the comments hidden from guests?


  59. Here are the three I saw below the first one:

    את המלך תלו על החבל
    על הבן יש בי קצת יותר אבל
    באמת לא נעים
    אז קללה להרים
    אבל קודם נדפוק סולו נבל

    במלכה התעללו קצת יותר
    כשהתלבטו אם אפשר לוותר
    הם זרעו בה תקווה
    שנגדעה באיבה
    כשהחליטו אותה לבתר.

    בוא תרשום שאני ערבי
    שהיו אדמות לסבי
    ותתן לי כובש
    את בשרו אנשנש
    עם סלט ירקות אביבי.

  60. Okay, so mostly-Hebrew comments are fine, as opposed to mostly-Cyrillic.

  61. No, I can post whatever I want, unlike you peons.

  62. Boo, hiss, pthpppt.

  63. The peasants are revolting!

  64. At least your true feelings about the LH commentariat surface!

  65. Rodger C says

    I’ll bet Keren-Happuch Osuji has sisters named Jemimah and Keziah.

  66. OOOOOPS. That should have been “At last”.

  67. I have been inspired by this post to de-lurk myself, for the first time, here on languagehat, after years of lazily lurking.

    I was inspired, in particular, by Trond Elgen’s comment (RE offbeacity), and made this:

    If you want limericks to have a capacity
    to show anything more than verbosity
    and to thusly afford
    some readers unbored
    Then they’ll need to include some offbeacity

    More at my blog.

  68. Yvy tyvy says

    Not about a poem, but:

    There was once a white hurrying rabbit,
    Who a very strange world did inhabit.
    For heads were so abundant,
    As to be quite redundant,
    So removing them was the Queen’s habit.

  69. Allan from Iowa says

    Based on a slightly more recent poet:

    Terence, this all is a bore.
    To hear your sad songs is a chore.
    We’d jump up and dance
    If you’d give us a chance,
    But we like the cheery tunes more.

  70. If that’s what you want, have a beer.
    I’ve better advice for you here:
    “Drink poison to learn
    How to cope with life’s burn.”
    —Mithridates, the Sourpuss Seer

  71. @Yvy tyvy: Surely, the second line must be: “Who a curiouser world did inhabit.”

  72. Yvy tyvy says

    There was once an odd queen who’d get furiouser
    So that one girl said, “Curiouser and curiouser!”
    But as time went by,
    It turned out (oh, my!)
    ‘Twas a tale that got spuriouser and spuriouser.

  73. David Marjanović says
  74. Trond Engen says

    I was inspired, in particular, by Trond Elgen’s comment (RE offbeacity), and made this:

    I’m honoured. Mooh!

  75. Trond Engen says

    Here’s one that’s been swirling in the back of my head for the last week:

    I crossed the sea coming here
    To free my head from the shear.
    And Erik the ruler
    Grew cooler and cooler
    With every splintering spear.

  76. Here is a recent article about the phenomenon of having more than two parents—three at least, in this case. However, I would not posted it here, except that it uses the word throuple (albeit in quotes as a neologism), which one of my friends thinks is one of the most intrinsically funny words there is. I still prefer beard snood.

    Also: The Wordorigins link at the top of the original post is sadly dead.

  77. David Eddyshaw says

    [EDIT: I see MMcM got there first. No matter. Such artistry needs to be proclaimed widely.]
    The Waste Land (by Wendy “T.S.” Cope)


    In April one seldom feels cheerful;
    Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
    Clairvoyantes distress me,
    Commuters depress me–
    Met Stetson and gave him an earful.


    She sat on a mighty fine chair,
    Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
    She asks many questions,
    I make few suggestions–
    Bad as Albert and Lil–what a pair!


    The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
    Tiresias fancies a peep–
    A typist is laid,
    A record is played–
    Wei la la. After this it gets deep.


    A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
    About birds and his business–the lot,
    Which is no surprise,
    Since he’d met his demise
    And been left in the ocean to rot.


    No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
    Then thunder, a shower of quotes
    From the Sanskrit and Dante.
    Da. Damyata. Shantih.
    I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.

  78. **Warning: Not entirely on-topic**

    Many years ago a friend told me a limerick that he claimed was written by WS Gilbert:

    There was a young man from St Bees
    Who was stung on the nose by a wasp
    When asked if it hurt,
    He said no, not too much,
    But I’m glad it wasn’t a hornet.

    (St Bees is a real place)

  79. The Wordorigins link at the top of the original post is sadly dead.

    Thanks for the heads-up; I’ve fixed it. (Wordorigins moved to new hosting not long ago and all old links are dead.)

  80. David Eddyshaw says

    @David L:

    There was an old man of Dunoon,
    Who always ate soup with a fork.
    For he said: “As I eat
    Neither fish, fowl, nor flesh,
    I should otherwise finish too quick.”

  81. Now I see that the Ozymandias limerick in the post belongs perfectly at Dundalk and Sock.

  82. John Cowan says

    Many years ago a friend told me a limerick

    When I learned it, the folk process had changed it into the following lumperick:

    There was a young fellow named Bees
    Who was stung on the neck by a wasp.
    When asked “Does it hurt?”
    He replied, “No, it doesn’t;
    “It would have been terrible if it had been a hornet.”

  83. Peter S. says

    Mottled things all are quite fine:
    Trout, skies, chestnuts, finches, and kine,
    And everything odd —
    They were all made by God.
    Praise Him in the very last line.

  84. Do I dare disturb the universe?
    No! I’d surely seem absurd or worse.
    Let the evening sleep
    And the yellow smoke creep
    As I turn my cowardice into verse.

  85. Lameen: Ow! Did you write this yourself?

  86. Y: Yeah – it’s not really prolix enough for old Prufrock, but such are the limitations of the form.

  87. Lameen: perhaps replace “into” with “to” on the last line? It scans a little better if you ask me. Otherwise, love it 🙂

  88. Thanks Andrew!

    With apologies to Rilke, here goes another:

    The summer, O Lord, was too long,
    So let its last fruits become strong.
    Too late now to build –
    Your days will be filled
    With wandering all winter long.

  89. I only realized after writing that this doesn’t fit the request for “poems”, but – damn propriety – I’ve got a limerick to share:

    T’was an Oceanian, Winston,
    whose society couldn’t be flinched in.
    The scales so tipped,
    our hero was flipped –
    but no rodents thoroughly pinched him.

  90. Ha! I hereby withdraw and obliterate the restriction to poems.

  91. Mine and Yvy Tyvy’s weren’t either. We’re all scofflaws here.

  92. Mountains empty of aves;
    all human traces erased.
    Alone in a boat
    and a hat and a cloak,
    old fisherman cold snowy waves.

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