Friday, 29 September 2006

Worse than a Vogon

Today is the 104th anniversary of the death of William Topaz McGonagall, author of some truly awful poetry. (For another creator of dreadful verse, see this post about the cheese-obsessed James McIntyre.)

Perhaps McGonagall's most famous poem is The Tay Bridge Disaster, which commemorates, in forced rhyme and laboured meter, the collapse of the Tay Bridge and the death of dozens of train passengers.

The poem opens with:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time
.


And closes with:
It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed
.


McGonagall also fancied himself as a bit of a song-writer too.

I'm a rattling boy from Dublin town,
I courted a girl called Biddy Brown,
Her eyes they were as black as sloes,
She had black hair and an aquiline nose
.

Chorus

Whack fal de da, fal de darelido,
Whack fal de da, fal de darelay,
Whack fal de da, fal de darelido,
Whack fal de da, fal de darelay
.


While McGonagall was belting out this rollicking tune in a pub, the landlord pelted him with food. In his autobiography, the poet refers to the landlord as 'the first man who threw peas at me'. It must have become a common occurrence in his life. And not without reason.

There's a fine selection of his poems on the McGonagall Online site. I will close with his work commemorating Alfred, Lord Tennyson. On the Poet Laureate's death, McGonagall tried to petition Queen Victoria to make him Tennyson's successor. Luckily, the Queen was not in residence when he arrived at Balmoral. At least, that's what they told him.

Death and Burial of Lord Tennyson

Alas! England now mourns for her poet that's gone—
The late and the good Lord Tennyson.
I hope his soul has fled to heaven above,
Where there is everlasting joy and love.
He was a man that didn't care for company,
Because company interfered with his study,
And confused the bright ideas in his brain,
And for that reason from company he liked to abstain.
He has written some fine pieces of poetry in his time,
Especially the May Queen, which is really sublime;
Also the gallant charge of the Light Brigade—
A most heroic poem, and beautifully made
.

And, in conclusion, I most earnestly pray,
That the people will erect a monument for him without delay,
To commemorate the good work he has done,
And his name in gold letters written thereon!

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