Friday, September 25, 2009

Bad poetry showdown

For years now, scholars have been arguing over who should be the true holder of the title of worst poet ever. Most agree that there are only two serious contenders (where poetry in "English" is concerned, at any rate). One is Scotsman William Topaz McGonagall, whose poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster" certainly justifies his consideration as a serious candidate. For years I was in the McGonagall camp, but more recently I find myself leaning more towards James McIntyre, Ontario's "Chaucer of Cheese". To see why, keep on reading (at your own risk)

MOTP readers are invited to register their own opinions, by adding a comment to this post.

The evidence:

The Tay Bridge Disaster
William Topaz McGonagall (1879)


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.
’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say --
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.
”When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say --
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”
But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.
So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the people’s hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
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.

Now let's hear from James McIntyre:

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
(Weight over seven thousand pounds)

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.
All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please.
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.
May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to to send you off as far as
The great world's show at Paris.
Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.

We'rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.


Dairy Ode

Our muse it doth refuse to sing
Of cheese made early in the spring,
When cows give milk from spring fodder
You cannot make a good cheddar.

The quality is often vile
Of cheese that is made in April,
Therefore we think for that reason
You should make later in the season.

Cheese making you should delay
Until about the first of May.
Then cows do feed on grassy field
And rich milk they abundant yield.

Ontario cannot compete
With the Northwest in raising wheat,
For cheaper there they it can grow
So price in future may be low.

Though this a hardship it may seem,
Rejoice that you have got the cream,
In this land of milk and honey,
Where dairy farmers do make money.

Utensils must be clean and sweet,
So cheese with first class can compete,
And daily polish up milk pans,
Take pains with vats and with milk cans.

And it is important matter
To allow no stagnant water,
But water from pure well or stream
The cow must drink to give pure cream.

Canadian breeds 'tis best to pair
With breeds from the shire of Ayr,
They thrive on our Canadian feed
And are for milking splendid breed.

Though 'gainst spring cheese some do mutter,
Yet spring milk also makes bad butter,
Then there doth arise the query
How to utilize it in the dairy.

The milk it floats in great spring flood
Though it is not so rich and good,
Let us be thankful for this stream
Of milk and also curds and cream.

All dairymen their highest aims
Should be to make the vale of Thames,
Where milk doth so abundant flow,
Dairyland of Ontario.



Oxford Cheese Ode

The ancient poets ne'er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne'er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze,
They ne'er hoped or looked for cheese.
A few years since our Oxford farms
Were nearly robbed of all their charms,
O'er cropped the weary land grew poor
And nearly barren as a moor,
But now the owners live at ease
Rejoicing in their crop of cheese.
And since they justly treat the soil,
Are well rewarded for their toil,
The land enriched by goodly cows,
Yie'ds plenty now to fill their mows,
Both wheat and barley, oats and peas
But still their greatest boast is cheese.
And you must careful fill your mows
With good provender for your cows,
And in the winter keep them warm,
Protect them safe all time from harm,
For cows do dearly love their ease,
Which doth insure best grade of cheese.
To us it is a glorious theme
To sing of milk and curds and cream,
Were it collected it could float
On its bosom, small steam boat,
Cows numerous as swarm of bees
Are milked in Oxford to make cheese.

3 comments:

Bebe Bahnsen said...

I love poetry but I couldn't get past five lines of McGonagall's opus. The only thing I remember being as bad when I was in school was Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but I know that's considered to be a masterpiece.
I loved poets like Edwin Arlington Robinson and can still quote most of "Richard Cory" at the drop of a hat, but of course no one ever drops a hat to hear me intone poetry.
Thanks to Paddy, I've recently discovered Billy Collins, who is great.

Wha'sInYeSporran? said...

McGonagall. Anyone could spoof something as profoundly illogical as cheese. But a rail disaster? That took a supreme lack of taste, backed up with complete immastery of meter and rhyme - "When the train left Edinburgh /
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow" - that is stunning in its execution. If he could howl he would've been the Dylan of the Highlands.

Anonymous said...

"Ontario cannot compete
With the Northwest in raising wheat,
For cheaper there they it can grow
So price in future may be low"

Cheap Poetry:

Cheaper than this they it can't write.

David, here's a challenge - can you write a poem even worse than this? You first...