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The Tay Bridge Disaster -- William McGonagall

For a slight change of pace...
(Poem #343) The Tay Bridge Disaster
  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 seemed 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 all 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 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.
-- William McGonagall
Inspired by Seamus Cooney's wonderful poetry page[1], I decided to run a
really bad poem today. Now 'bad' poetry covers a lot of territory[2] -
there's the sincere but painful poem, the poem that tries too hard, and the
poem that doesn't try hard enough, the poem by an unknown writer whose merit
is insufficient to compensate for his lack of fame, and the poem by a great
author whom one would really have expected better of. And then there's
William McGonagall. To quote Untermeyer, "At his best he is unforgettable,
standing mountain-high above his host of imitators." Okay, so he was talking
about Kipling, but he could have been referring to McGonagall and no one
would have compained.

And 'Tay Bridge' is McGonagall at his finest - a depth-plumbingly bad poem
that had me dropping my jaw in sheer amazement before the first verse was
done, and laughing out loud not too long after. One cannot set out to write
poetry this bad - it requires a lack of talent surpassed only by one's ego,
two qualities our man seems to have possessed in spades. Truly, a poem which
will be remember'd for a very long time.

[1] [broken link]
[2] [broken link]'s-Law.html

Biographical Note:

  William McGonagall is Dundee's best remembered nobody. He was a man
  without talent who thought he was a great poet and tragedian and only
  needed an opportunity to prove it. This made him the perfect target for
  practical jokers who abounded in his day. He was engaged to give
  entertainments in small halls just so his audience could make a goat of
  him. His teetotal drink was spiked with alcohol.


  He claims a place on library shelves because his indomitable spirit
  appealed to authors and essayists. He made a number of courageous
  journeys, courageous in respect they were made by a person whose means
  were generally nil. He went to Balmoral, 50 odd miles, on foot, in the
  hope of seeing Queen Victoria. He got no further than the gate and was
  told never to come back. To London, then by sea, lured by forged
  invitations and, to cap it all, to New York, crossing the ocean in the
  steerage class and arriving with eight shillings. The streets of New York
  were not paved with gold for him, and in no time he was appealing to a
  Dundee benefactor to get him back home.

        -- from


  [broken link] (the McGonagall Appreciation Society
  - the mind boggles)

On Bad Poetry:

  There is a huge amount of bad poetry in the world. Although new bad poems
  are being written by the hundreds every day (many of them in university
  creative writing classes), most bad poetry is simply weak and ineffectual
  and lacking in interest and (fortunately) is soon forgotten.

  To achieve memorable badness is not so easy. It has to be done innocently,
  by a poet unaware of his or her defects. The right combination of lofty
  ambition, humorless self-confidence, and crass incompetence is rare and
  precious. (There is a famous anthology of bad poetry called The Stuffed
  Owl, which I recommend to those interested.)

        -- Seamus Cooney, W. Michigan U.

Compare McGonagall's wonderfully unconscious humour with the following work
by 'the worst poet in the universe'...

  [broken link]

And the fact that just setting out to be bad is not, well, good enough is
evident from the following 'gems' of McGonagall pastiche:


35 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Chris Hunt said...

Nice to see McGonagall on another web site. You've seen his poetry, but
are you familiar with his autobiographical writings? He's so convinced
of his talent as a poet and performer that he ends up in some
extrordinary adventures - told with a complete innocence of some of the
tricks that are played on him. His performance in the title role of
"Macbeth" - where he refused to let MacDuff kill him - is a real

You can read the full text at [broken link] , a
link from your tay bridge page would be much appreciated.

-- Chris Hunt

Martin DeMello said...

Higgledy piggledy
William McGonagall
Solemn tragedian
Mocked by his peers

Found their derision quite
Vowed that his name would re-
sound through the years


Chris Hunt said...

More Mcgonagall madness at [broken link]

CROCKER Sophie (06) said...

this poem is great !!!!

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