McGonagall

The Tartan Bard

A tribute to William McGonagall

Mac

Sir William Topaz McGonagall, a Scot, is generally acknowledged to be the worst poet of all time. Even worse than the Vogons. He was born in Edinburgh in 1830, and was most decidedly Scottish: Dour, morbid and God-fearing. He appears to have been totally without talent in all things poetic, but unable to see his own shortcomings. Probably because of this, he has achieved a sort of cult status - a sort of Gaelic heroic failure. He could write - but when he tried to be Poetic with a capital P it all went awfully wrong.

An extract from his autobiography might give you an idea of how seriously he took himself as a creator of odes. Not only that, but you can learn about the years of dedicated study he assiduously undertook before beginning work:

The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877. During the Dundee holiday week, in the bright and balmy month of June, when trees and flowers were in full bloom, while lonely and sad in my room, I sat thinking about the thousands of people who were away by rail or steamboat, perhaps to the land of Burns, or poor ill-treated Tannahill, or to gaze upon the Trossachs in Rob Roy's country, or elsewhere wherever their minds led them.

Well, while pondering so, I seemed to feel as it were a strange kind of feeling stealing over me, and remained so for about five minutes. A flame, as Lord Byron has said, seemed to kindle up my entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry; and I felt so happy, so happy, that I was inclined to dance, then I began to pace backwards and forwards in the room, trying to shake off all thought of writing poetry; but the more I tried, the more strong the sensation became.

It was so strong, I imagined that a pen was in my right hand, and a voice crying, 'Write! Write!' So I said to myself, ruminating, let me see; what shall I write? then all at once a bright idea struck me to write about my best friend, the late Reverend George Gilfillan; in my opinion I could not have chosen a better subject, therefore I immediately found paper, pen, and ink, and set myself down to immortalize the great preacher, poet, and orator.

Study these masterpieces carefully. Read them many times. Read them out loud in a silly voice in front of a group of friends who have sampled the 'water of life' from north of the border. See if you can get to the end of one of them without collapsing. Enjoy.