The Great MacGonagall

William MacGonagall does in fact have a fair claim to being the worst poet in the English language, not least because he was published, and republished, ad nauseam. Poets have always had a snobbery about publishing - the unpublished poet is perhaps not a poet at all, but the published poet has been deemed a poet, therefore he can be a truly bad poet, rather than just not-a-poet-at-all. MacGonagall is actually very famous and much quoted, and how many of us can say the same?

However, he has no true admirers. Lots of people find him funny, but not like Edward Lear was funny (sometimes). MacGonagall was invariably serious, earnest, even. MacGonagall societies are entirely tongue in cheek - an excuse for mock theatricals and a booze-up, nothing more.

Was he any good as a poet? Not at all. But he was a remarkable chronicler who would never compromise a fact for the sake of metre. He had no qualms about starting an epic with something like "It was at 7 a.m. on the fourteenth of August, 1883", or "Messrs Smith and MacGregor, famous railway architects from Dundee" (these are mine, but only because I can't be bothered rummaging. They are close enough). He also had a collection of pathological tic responses, e.g. any "ay" ending, he would almost always follow with "which will be remembered for many a long day"; any "een" would be dealt "most beautiful to be seen".

Technically, he was driven by rhyme and content but had little ear for the former and no judgment in the latter. Metrically, he was simply a non-starter.

And, of course, like most appalling poets, he loved disasters - train crashes, fires, drownings - he would invariably be first off the press wallowing in full gory details, cloaked in shock horror.

What else - he was an incorrigible snob and name dropper, almost dribbling at royalty, senior military, the peerage and successful business magnates. Had he been alive today, he'd probably have written this:

It was on Wednesday, April 9, 2003,
A day that will long go down in our country's history
That the statue of Saddam Hussein was gloriously brought down
By British and American soldiers and some brave men from Baghdad town.
And other people from the town did stand and loudly cheer
Not forgetting women and children who were also near
Because Saddam Hussein no longer would they fear
With brave British and American soldiers standing near.

And some of them who could speak English were heard to say
That this was certainly a very great day
And they raised their voices to thank Messrs. Bush and Blair
Who had bravely stood up for what was right and fair
Even when the President of France had turned away
Which will be remembered for many a long day.

For Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and was very bad
And this was known by all the people of Baghdad
Though it must be said that many would have been afraid to say
That they had hated him for many a long day.

For Saddam had killed many of his people especially the Kurds
And so they gathered round the statue shouting angry words.
But when the statue was pulled down they all began to cheer
Which will be remembered for many a year.

Soon our brave soldiers will all come home
And it is expected that Her Majesty the Queen will give medals to some
And President Bush will no doubt also honour his brave men
Who have made sure Saddam Hussein will not come back again.
And all the people of Iraq and the soldiers will say
They were proud to be there on the great day
When Saddam Hussein's statue was made to rock and sway
And to fall down on that very great day.


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