September 29

1902 Death of William Topaz McGonagall

Lovers of excruciatingly bad poetry have long honoured the shade of Irish-born Scottish poet William McGonagall, a compulsive weaver turned rhymester who to his dying day fancied himself among the greatest of his calling.

And, indeed, poetry was a calling. In 1877 when McGonagall was unemployed and in his 50s he had a vision: 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!

For the next 25 years McGonagall proclaimed his creations on street-corners, in pubs, and in a circus where he was content, for fifteen shillings a night, to be pelted with refuse while he recited.  He died penniless and was buried in an unmarked Edinburgh grave but his memory lives on as long as poems like the one appended below, “The Death and Burial of Lord Tennyson”, are still treasured. His works are in print and, for their soporific qualities, make splendid bed-time reading.

Alas! England now mourns for her poet that's gone-
The late and the good Lord Tennyson.
I hope his soul has fled to heaven above,
Where there is everlasting joy and love.

He was a man that didn't care for company,
Because company interfered with his study,
And confused the bright ideas in his brain,
And for that reason from company he liked to abstain.

He has written some fine pieces of poetry in his time,
Especially the May Queen, which is really sublime;
Also the gallant charge of the Light Brigade-
A most heroic poem, and beautifully made.

He believed in the Bible, also in Shakspeare,
Which he advised young men to read without any fear;
And by following the advice of both works therein,
They would seldom or never commit any sin.

Lord Tennyson's works are full of the scenery of his boyhood,
And during his life all his actions were good;
And Lincolnshire was closely associated with his history,
And he has done what Wordsworth did for the Lake Country.

His remains now rest in Westminster Abbey,
And his funeral was very impressive to see;
It was a very touching sight, I must confess,
Every class, from the Queen, paying a tribute to the poet's greatness.

The pall-bearers on the right of the coffin were Mr W. E. H. Lecky,
And Professor Butler, Master of Trinity, and the Earl of Rosebery;
And on the left were Mr J. A. Froude and the Marquis of Salisbury,
Also Lord Selborne, which was an imposing sight to see.


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