Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

A Book of Nonsense was not only the first book in English to indulge in verbal nonsense for its own sake but also the book that popularized the limerick form. Indeed, many standard reference books attribute the invention of the form to Edward Lear, although earlier published examples have been recorded. The nature of the limerick lends itself to light verse; its meter being anapestic—two unstressed syllables followed by a stress (da-da-DUM)—gives it a playful jingle. The first two lines and the last all have the same rhyme sound; these lines each have three stresses. The third and fourth lines are shorter, with only two stressed syllables, and these have their own rhyme sound. The first verse in A Book of Nonsense demonstrates the form:

There was an Old Man with a beard,Who said, It is just as I feared!—Two Owls and a Hen,F our Larks and a Wren,Have all built their nests in my beard!

The drawing that accompanies this verse is as silly as the limerick: A man with a huge black beard longer than his body rocks back on his heels, arms flailing, and scowls at the birds mentioned, which all appear rather contented in his beard.

The sort of nonsense represented by this first poem—a sort of a bewildering pointlessness—is only one type...

(The entire section is 470 words.)