26 February, 2013

The World's Worst Poet

I was tickled to read this article on The Guardian website about how an unpublished poem by the "world's worst poet" is expected to make thousands of pounds at auction.

The poem is by William Topaz McGonagall, a scottish weaver most famed for his terrible poem The Tay Bridge Disaster. This particular gem, however, is In Praise of the Royal Marriage, written to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of the Duke of York (later King George V). It contains such gems as:

May their hearts, always be full of glee. 
And, be kind, to each other, and ne'er disagree.

Now, I'm no poet but I can see how 200 poems with the same crude rhyming structure from start to finish, gets old. Indeed, poor William was known to have been pelted with rotten fish by his audiences. There's nothing wrong with rhyming poetry (I generally prefer it) but making lines rhyme with each other is not the same as writing poetry, in the same way that writing a good novel isn't solely a matter of putting down a plot line in a coherent manner. There's much more to it than that. And William seemed incapable of anything more. I don't think he centred-aligned all his poems, and I'm pretty sure he was too early for comic sans, but that's the sort of poet he was.

William's poems are the sort's of things you find in cheap birthday cards: rhyming couplets or perhaps an ABAB structure, with the normal expressions of English language twisted to make sure the rhyming word comes at the end of the sentence. It's excruciating, but for a poet so bad, there's something rather charming about it too - like the first poetry efforts of a child.

Have you ever read a published work that you truly thought was dreadful? What about anything that was so bad it was funny?

I'll leave you with some advice from William Topaz McGonagall's most famous poem, about the collapse of the Tay Bridge in 1879, while a train was travelling over it:
 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.


  1. I marvel at his renown - either because of or despite public opinion at the time. I had a whole book of terrible teen poetry (unpublished, thankfully), so I err on the side of kindness towards him. I read a book called Celestine Prophecy, where the writing style really jarred for me. To the point where, when it fell in the bath, I left it there.

    1. I'm sure most of us are guilty of terrible teen poetry! Most of us had the good sense to leave it in our teens however...

      That must have been a pretty bad book.


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