Four Lewd Little Limericks


Four Lewd Little Limericks- (2022)   

Algernon Charles Swinburne

for medium voice and piano


Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic, also spun off a few very bawdy limericks which have amused for generations. Looking about, I found no settings for these rhymes, and thought "why not?"


The gathering four into a single setting, medley-like, came to mind for the fun of it. It is heartily suggested that these be performed for friends and not in public venues. The first takes the Welsh city name as the key to rhyming and then using the "ending in a preposition" grammatical rule for such a limerick, proceeds to amuse on this seaside city's name.. The polytonal humor of the opening gesture -- E major atop C major -- sets the tongue-in-cheek tone and lilting 6/8 meter assists.


There was a young girl of Aberystwyth
Who took grain to the mill to get grist with.
The miller’s sun, Jack,
Laid her flat on her back,
And united the organs they p*ssed with.



A change of key and the misuse of a square metered "Sønner av Norge" (originally "Sønner af Norge"), twisting into a more compact meter than the original 4/4, the melody is no longer the official anthem of Norway, but accompanies our "young lady of Norway" in her ambitious, athletic stunt.

There was a young lady of Norway
Who hung by her toes in a doorway.
She said to her beau
‘Just look at me Joe,
I think I’ve discovered one more way.’



An exaggerated waltz rhythm breaks the 6/8 meter of the two earlier rhymes, as a differing polytonal relationship colors this rude -- rhymes with 'lewd' of course --  limerick.

There was a young man from Dundee
Who b*ggered an ape in a tree.
The results were quite horrid:
All a*se and no forehead,
Three balls and a purple goatee.



A return to the 6/8 meter for the last treatment of a limerick moves to D flat major, with pentatonic arpeggios to hint at our pagoda in Baroda, now in the modern state of Gujarat, India. One finds -- should one look -- some notion of those unsuccessful suitors who were a part of the Adami and Simoni libretto for Puccini's Turandot, a tale originally drawn from Nizami ceturies before.  Losing lives and losing 'parts,' such are similar themes and all part of the 'entertainment.' 

There was a young girl of Baroda
Who built an erotic pagoda;
The walls of its halls
Were festooned with the balls
And the tools of the fools that bestrode her.



The setting ends with the four place names, quoted as previously set. After all, "there was...."



4 pages, circa 3' 00"


The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this art song score.


Four Lewd Little Limericks