William McGonagall

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William McGonagall (born Edinburgh, March 1825 – died Edinburgh, 29 September 1902) was a Scottish poet. He thought he was good at writing poetry, but his poetry was often considered to be the worst poetry in the English language. He became famous because he was such a bad poet.

Life and poetry[change | edit source]

William McGonagall was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family were originally Irish. McGonagall worked as a weaver in Dundee.

In 1877, when he was probably 52 years old, he suddenly found that he liked writing poetry. He wrote a poem about a local vicar and sent it to the Dundee Weekly News. The editor thought it was a joke, and he published it as a jokey poem.

McGonagall continued to write poetry. He read his poems in public and lots of people came to hear him. However, his audience had really come to laugh at him and throw rotten vegetables at him.

Mc Gonagall's poems have stupid rhymes, the words he uses are often silly and he mixes his imagery in clumsy ways. One of his most famous poems is about the Tay Bridge Disaster. It tells of a real event in 1879 when the bridge over the river Tay in Scotland collapsed and a train that was going over the bridge crashed, killing many people. Part of McGonagall's poem goes:

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.

McGonagall did not seem to realise that people thought his poems were bad. He became disappointed that the town of Dundee did not recognize him as a great poet, so he went to Perth and then to Edinburgh. He continued to write poetry. He travelled to London because he had been given an invitation to meet the famous actor Sir Henry Irvine. However, someone had been playing a trick on him: the invitation was not a real one, and he was not let into the theatre.

McGonagall wrote some poetry about London while he was there. He wrote:

As I stood upon London Bridge and viewed the mighty throng
Of thousands of people in cabs and busses rapidly whirling along,
All furiously driving to and fro,
Up one street and down another as quick as they could go....

McGonagall was teetotal and often spoke against drinking alcohol. He thought that his audiences did not like his poetry because they had been drinking too much.

When he died in 1902 he was a very poor man.


McGonagall in popular culture[change | edit source]

People still remember McGonagall's poems today and continue to make fun of them. The comedian Spike Milligan had a character called McGoonagall in The Goon Show. One episode of The Muppet Show had a character called Angus McGonagle. In the Harry Potter books, author J.K. Rowling chose the surname of the Professor of Transfiguration, Minerva McGonagall, because she had heard of McGonagall and loved the name.

There is a McGonagall Appreciation Society in McGonagall's home town of Dundee.