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The Worst Poet in the World

February 19, 2013 | by

220px-William_McGonagallThe handwritten manuscript of a poem by the man considered the worst poet in the English language, William Topaz McGonagall, is expected to fetch up to £3,000 at auction. While the doggerel-esque verse, “In Praise of the Royal Marriage,” is certainly no threat to Tennyson, it  doesn’t seem worthy of the dead-fish and rotten-egg tributes the Scottish bard’s performances regularly elicited on the music hall stage. His most infamous work is probably “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” commemorating an 1879 bridge collapse in which numerous train passengers were killed; it is either a masterpiece of outsider art or of insensitivity.


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.




  1. J. Peters | February 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    At least it rhymed. Worse than Rod McKuen?

  2. Ted Hash-Berryman | February 19, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    You spelled Michael Robbins’ name wrong.

  3. Douglas Carnall | February 21, 2013 at 6:04 am

    McGonagall’s fascination is his unswerving confidence in his own genius. He billed himself as “poet and tragedian” and obviously enjoyed the sound of his own voice: his poetry is written to be performed aloud. One can debate the extent to which McGonagall was conscious of his own irony, but there is no doubt his memory endures: having run many a Burns supper, I’ve more than once had to refuse a reading from McGonagall.
    “You can read that on McGonagall Night,” I like to say.
    “But there isn’t a McGonagall night.”
    It’s all a great Scottish joke. For me he was a comic personage who mocked the pretensions of his age. I have a delightful slim volume of his verse (“Poetic Gems”) which is prefaced by a mocking letter from Glasgow University students, snobby wee gits that they are. Read his work aloud as though you’re on a music hall stage. Imagine the cabbages flying. You’ll soon be howling with laughter. Doesn’t that feel good? Yet he is “bad”? Ah!

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