Limerick license, poetic license, in the US

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Sun Nov 1 13:14:32 UTC 2009

> Hoppety hoppety ho!
> Where shall the baby go?
> Over dale and down,
> To Limerick town,
> And there shall the baby go. ...
> [This almost-Limerick, lacking in meter, but having the rhyme scheme,
> etc., and
> the possibly-interesting movement Limerickward, may suggest awareness in
> 1890
> of Limerick-type poems]
>  ...
> Stephen Goranson

Not exactly unmetrical, though not in syllable-accent metre.  It's in
dipodic metre, partly working out a traditional question-and-reply
structure, as in:

        Children, go where I send you;
        How shall I send you?

        I'm gonna send you one by one,
        One for the little bitty baby was born, born, born in Bethlehem.

Nursery rhymes, folksongs, ballads, and negro spirituals, all in the
much-ignored dipodic metre.  "Hoppety hoppety ho!" is presumably deriving
from the first of these branches.  If it were "Hippety hoppety ho!", the
dipodic structure would be even clearer.

So pretty much alien to both the metre and the tradition of the limerick.
(Although Edward Lear wrote for children, he wasn't writing *within the
nursery-rhyme tradition, still less its metrics, in his limericks.  Poems
such as his "The Owl and the Pussycat" are another matter, heavily
influenced by dipodic metre, if not better read in those terms rather than
in the more conventional syllable-accent mode.)

As to Limerick town in the verse quoted, it seems to function much as
Babylon in another question-and-answer poem:

        How many miles to Babylon?
        Three score miles and ten ...

Robin Hamilton

The American Dialect Society -

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