The limerick reclaimed

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Let’s face it. For many people the limerick signifies a naughty little construct. Often salted with dirty words and an attitude to match (“There once was a man from Nantucket …”), the limerick lives in most imaginations as the drunken uncle of polite word play.

With the publication of Ernest W. Lefever’s insightful and entertaining collection “Liberating the Limerick,” all that, as they say, is about to change. As Mr. Lefever writes in the book’s introduction, “This collection of 230 verses by fifty authors, past and present, demonstrates that limericks can be wise, hilarious, and often sexy without being obscene.”

After reviewing what defines a limerick — a five-line verse in which the first, second and fifth lines rhyme — readers soon realize that in this sprightly collection, there is something deeper afoot.

With categories such as “Battle of the Sexes,” “Feminine Mystique,” “Freudian Quips,” “Padres and Preachers,” as well as History, Politics and Literature, the limericks included here address a broad range of everyday experience. Though the book is conservative in its approach, it will likely resonate across partisan and ideological boundaries.

Because of the sheer fun and smarts of Mr. Lefever’s selections, readers will return to the volume again and again. And part of its undeniable charm is that, taken as a whole, it makes a persuasive argument for the power of restraint.

Offering up real jewels by a cross-section of writers including Edward Lear, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ogden Nash, Bertrand Russell and Lyn Nofziger, there are also verses from Mr. Lefever himself, and the proverbial “anon.”

The book is to the core a presentation of art informed by moral clarity. In attempting to offer perspective on the historic and contemporary culture war, Mr. Lefever includes limericks such as this one:

God’s plan made a hopeful

beginning

But man spoiled his

chances by sinning.

We trust that the story

Will end in God’s glory;

But at present, the other

Story Continues →

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