Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"His language is spoken in the Church and by the Advocate at the bar..."

Not William Topaz McGonagall

From my early childhood on, encouraged by my maternal grandfather, I have been in awe of the comedic talents of the late Spike Milligan. Spike's work essentially shaped my sense of humour and inculcated me with a love of the ridiculous, not least through his championing of Scotland's own William McGonagall, the man responsible for the unwittingly worst verse ever written in the English language.

Thanks to Spike, I had long marvelled at the sheer awfulness of McGonagall's poems but by my current ripe age of 33 I had begun to fear that no new work by this misguided sub-genuis would ever come to light. Fortunately, my fears were groundless, as the BBC reports:

Critics pan play by 'worst poet'
A newly-published play by a man acknowledged to be one of the world's worst poets has been savaged by literary historians. The 1886 play by Dundee poet William McGonagall will be included in a new collection of his poems.

Jack o' the Cudgel, or The Hero of a Hundred Fights, was never performed during the poet's lifetime. Dr Gerard Carruthers from Glasgow University described it as a "real bludgeoning of literature."

Dr Carruthers, a senior lecturer on Scottish literature, told the BBC's Today programme: "It's dreadful. He does cudgel the play to death. It's as bad as anything else McGonagall wrote. Typically it's all energy and no talent. You have had to stand back and admire. It's a bit like watching Ricky Gervais' character in The Office attempting to dance - he won't stop but nothing good is coming out." (the rest...)

I think I may have to try and stage a performance.

For those of you unfamiliar with McGonagall's work, a comprehensive selection can be found here. But for those of you not inclined to actively seek out bad poetry, I'd like to offer up this example of just how terrible McGonagall could be, with his tribute to Shakespeare. Truly it is a joy to behold the worst writer in the English language extoll the best:

Immortal! William Shakespeare, there's none can you excel,
You have drawn out your characters remarkably well,
Which is delightful for to see enacted upon the stage
For instance, the love-sick Romeo, or Othello, in a rage;
His writings are a treasure, which the world cannot repay,
He was the greatest poet of the past or of the present day
Also the greatest dramatist, and is worthy of the name,
I'm afraid the world shall never look upon his like again.
His tragedy of Hamlet is moral and sublime,
And for purity of language, nothing can be more fine
For instance, to hear the fair Ophelia making her moan,
At her father's grave, sad and alone....
In his beautiful play, "As You Like It," one passage is very fine,
Just for instance in fhe forest of Arden, the language is sublime,
Where Orlando speaks of his Rosilind, most lovely and divine,
And no other poet I am sure has written anything more fine;
His language is spoken in the Church and by the Advocate at the bar,
Here and there and everywhere throughout the world afar;
His writings abound with gospel truths, moral and sublime,
And I'm sure in my opinion they are surpassing fine;
In his beautiful tragedy of Othello, one passage is very fine,
Just for instance where Cassio looses his lieutenancy
... By drinking too much wine;
And in grief he exclaims, "Oh! that men should put an
Enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains."
In his great tragedy of Richard the III, one passage is very fine
Where the Duchess of York invokes the aid of the Divine
For to protect her innocent babes from the murderer's uplifted hand,
And smite him powerless, and save her babes, I'm sure 'tis really grand.
Immortal! Bard of Avon, your writings are divine,
And will live in the memories of your admirers until the end of time;
Your plays are read in family circles with wonder and delight,
While seated around the fireside on a cold winter's night.

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