David Stewart has a great article about that popular literary form—the limerick—in the most recent issue (September 2002) of Smithsonian. He talks about its strong rhyme and meter and cites examples of great limericks produced by well-known authors. He leads off with a classic by Morris Bishop:
The limerick is furtive and mean;
These 5-line verses are everywhere. We all have heard them and most of can quote at least one limerick, even if it is only “Hickory, Dickory, Dock…” In fact many can quote one that starts, “There once was a man from Nantucket…”
As I read this fascinating article, I wondered if there were any limericks written in, or specifically about, Texas. I sat down at my computer and began a diligent search for Texas limericks. Although it took the better part of two days to finish the job, my efforts were rewarded. I found a number of heretofore-unpublished limericks that I am going to share with you along with my own scholarly commentary regarding the merits of these verses.
Analysis reveals that these limericks were written at different times and at different places. I’m not sure that I have reconstructed the chronology perfectly, but it’s close.
The first example talks about an early version of the Dallas Cowboys in the Tom Landry era.
The Cowboys are America’s team.
Notice the appropriate rhyme and meter. The author is probably contemplating the all too obvious snug fit of the cheerleaders’ outfits. This is a very good example of a Texas limerick. The next one is probably even older than the “Cowboy.”
Rastus enjoyed going to Dallas
The dating of this piece was aided by the name of the lead character—Rastus. Very few parents today name their children Rastus. Also notice that the last line doesn’t follow the normal rhyming pattern. In fact, it doesn’t rhyme at all. This indicates that the poem was likely composed before many people in Texas could write and the poem was handed down through the oral tradition—by word of mouth. It is also likely that some appropriate rhyming word was in the original composition but was changed to the less offensive “time” by a well meaning Baptist at some point in history.
The next two are from about the same time although they were likely written at different places.
It is likely that the last word of the last poem was changed as the author was contemplating publication.
The next poem is of relatively recent origin, suggested by the fact that the Texas concealed carry law is only eight years old and you know that no Texan carried a gun before the passage of that law. It is also probable that the piece was not written by a genuine cowboy and probably not even by a Texan. What Texan would ever think of shining his gun with Brasso?
In southwest Texas is El Paso
The next poem is of uncertain origin with regard to time. It was probably written in Dime Box within the past 20 years. This conjecture is based on the fact that the use of the word “fox” for attractive women is relatively recent and who, but the people who live in Dime Box, have ever heard of the place anyway.
The last two poems are clearly the most recent—almost certainly within the last two years at least the “Rick Perry” poem for reasons that are obvious. The “Huntsville” poem could be a bit older but it is not likely because the Huntsville executions have attracted a great deal more worldwide media attention since George W. Bush became president and Rick Perry became Governor.
Huntsville is home to the prison
Our Governor’s name is Rick Perry.
Governor Perry’s spokesperson, Kathy Walt, a former resident of Huntsville, has made no comment about the “Rick Perry” poem or speculated on any of its implications. Although Molly Ivins has not accepted responsibility for the authorship of this verse, it is significant that she has referred to Governor Perry as “Mr. Good Hair.”
If any of you readers run across limericks related to Texas, please send them to me at P.O Box 636 Huntsville, Texas 77340-0636 or e-mail them to at the address below.
*Reference is here made to the big tall cowboy statue, Big Tex, in the state fair grounds.
**The author intended, I’m sure, to use the word riddance but for rhyming reasons didn’t. It wouldn’t really matter much since ridum doesn’t rhyme either.