There once was a man from Nantucket
"There once was a man from Nantucket" is the opening line for many limericks, in which the name of the island of Nantucket creates often ribald rhymes and puns. The protagonist in the obscene versions is typically portrayed as well-endowed and hypersexualized.
The opening line is so well known that it has been used as a stand-alone joke, implying upcoming obscenities.
The earliest published version appeared in 1902 in the Princeton Tiger written by Prof. Dayton Voorhees:
There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
Other publications seized upon the "Nantucket" motif, spawning many sequels
Among the most well known are:
But he followed the pair to Pawtucket,
The man and the girl with the bucket;
And he said to the man,
He was welcome to Nan,
But as for the bucket, Pawtucket.
Followed later by:
Then the pair followed Pa to Manhasset,
Where he still held the cash as an asset,
But Nan and the man
Stole the money and ran,
And as for the bucket, Manhasset.
The many ribald versions of the limerick are the basis for its lasting popularity. Many variations on the theme are possible because of the ease of rhyming Nantucket with certain vulgar phrases. The following example comes from Immortalia: An Anthology of American Ballads, Sailors' Songs, Cowboy Songs, College Songs, Parodies, Limericks, and Other Humorous Verses and Doggerel, published in 1927.
There was a young man from Nantucket
Whose dick was so long he could suck it.
He said with a grin
As he wiped off his chin,
"If my ear was a cunt I would fuck it."
In popular culture
The poem has become a staple of American humor, both as an iconic example of dirty poetry and as a joking example of fine art, whose vulgarity and simple form provide a surprise contrast to an expected refinement. Some examples:
- In Woody Allen's 1966 film What's Up, Tiger Lily?, the protagonist Phil Moskowitz reads the opening line of "ancient erotic poetry": "There once was a man from Nantucket".
- The animated sitcom The Simpsons makes numerous references to the limerick, such as "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo", where Homer comments that he "once knew a man from Nantucket" but "the stories about him are greatly exaggerated".
- Garrison Keillor quoted the first line to laughter during his last episode of 42 years of hosting the radio show A Prairie Home Companion.
- On the Gilmore Girls season 3, episode 8, Lorelai Gilmore jokes about carving something dirty into a bathroom wall on a tour of Yale, saying, "What rhymes with Nantucket?"
- In the Hey Arnold episode New Teacher, Herold Berman volunteers to recite a poem for his schoolmates. He begins to say, "There once was a man from Nantucket" before being shushed by Mr. Simmons. Nickelodeon repeated this joke fourteen years later in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squidward's School for Grown-Ups", SpongeBob, impersonating an opera singer, begins his act by producing a sheet of paper and reading the same line. The audience is aghast as he realizes he has the wrong sheet.
- In That 70's Show season 2 episode 24, Hyde begins a joke with "There once was a girl from Nantucket..."
- In The Bad News Bears season 2 episode 12 "The Good Life" Tanner enters a poetry contest with "There once was a man from Nantucket..." before the principal cuts him off.
- In the Suits season 3 episode 9 Rachel starts to recite: "There was once a girl from Nantucket ..."
- In Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Hugh Grant jokes about his vows by saying "There once was a girl from Nantucket...".
- In Solaris, Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) mentions that his favorite poem is the most famous poem by Dylan Thomas that starts "There was a young man from Nantucket...".
- In the pilot of Babylon 5, Commander Sinclair tells Delenn, an alien, about poetry. Delenn responds with "There once was a man from Nantucket...".
- "Nan's Adventures Up to Date". Life. Vol. 41. March 26, 1903. p. 274. Retrieved March 6, 2012 – via Google Books.
- In transit. Vol. 11 no. 2. p. 18. Missing or empty
- Princeton Tiger. November 1902. p. 59. Missing or empty
- Baring-Gould, William S. (1979). The Lure of the Limerick. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-517-53856-2.
- Adams, Cecil (March 8, 1985). "How does the limerick 'There was an old man of Nantucket ...' conclude?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
- Anonymous (1927). Immortalia: An Anthology of American Ballads, Sailors' Songs, Cowboy Songs, College Songs, Parodies, Limericks, and Other Humorous Verses and Doggerel. Library of Alexandria. Limericks XXI. ISBN 978-1-4655-3313-5.
- NOTE: An echo or "copy" of that example, can also be found at:
<< "10 "Nantucket" Limericks (R)". Michael R. Bissell. Archived from the original on June 29, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2019 – via http://michaelbissell.com/.
There once was a man from Nantucket, / Whose cock was so long he could suck it. / He said with a grin / As he wiped off his chin, / "If my ear were a cunt I would fuck it!>> ... even though the poems there are not really all Limericks, and some of them do not even contain the word "Nantucket", so ... the only connection most of them (except for the first one, which is the Limerick quoted here) seem to have with [the word] "Nantucket", is: that they are (at least, most of them are) ribald.
- IMBD: quotes from 'What's Up, Tiger Lily?'
- "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo". May 16, 1999 – via IMDb.
- McNary, Dave (July 2, 2016). "Garrison Keillor Says Goodbye to A Prairie Home Companion at the Hollywood Bowl". Variety.