Having recently read Terry Pratchett’s “The Wee Free Men” to my daughter, I was startled to come across a book of poetry with the title “The World’s Worst Poet” – and find that the character of William the Gonnagle, bard of the Nac Mac Feegles, was based on a real person. According to the book, William McGonagall of Dundee, Scotland, is generally acclaimed as the worst poet ever in the English language – to the point that a contest was once held, with a generous cash prize and Peter Sellers judging, to find a worse poet… and the prize was never awarded. He specialized in commemorating disasters, as well as the scenery and events of his home region; as an example of both, consider the following sequence: “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay”, “The Tay Bridge Disaster” and “An Address to the New Tay Bridge”.
You can find out a lot more than you would ever want to know about Mr. McGonagall here; for now I will leave you with a tiny sample of his prolific (and prodigiously awful) output.
Saving a Train
‘Twas in the year of 1869, and on the 19th of November,
Which the people in Southern Germany will long remember,
The great rain-storm which for twenty hours did pour down,
That the rivers were overflowed and petty streams all around.
The rain fell in such torrents as had never been seen before,
That it seemed like a second deluge, the mighty torrents’ roar,
At nine o’clock at night the storm did rage and moan
When Carl Springel set out on his crutches all alone —
From the handsome little hut in which he dwelt,
With some food to his father, for whom he greatly felt,
Who was watching at the railway bridge,
Which was built upon a perpendicular rocky ridge.
The bridge was composed of iron and wooden blocks,
And crossed o’er the Devil’s Gulch, an immense cleft of rocks,
Two hundred feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet deep,
And enough to make one’s flesh to creep.
The Miraculous Escape of Robert Allan, the Fireman
‘Twas in the year of 1858, and on October the fourteenth day,
That a fire broke out in a warehouse, and for hours blazed away;
And the warehouse, now destroyed, was occupied by the Messrs R. Wylie, Hill & Co.,
Situated in Buchanan Street, in the City of Glasgow.
The Tay Bridge Disaster
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.