Poems of Worst Poet in the English Language Sold at Auction

Posted on May 20, 2008

The poems and letters of William Topaz McGonagall, widely regarded as the worst poet in the English language were sold at auction for $12,840.

The vocabulary is poor and the rhyme excruciating but a collector paid $12,840 Friday for original works by William Topaz McGonagall, internationally celebrated as the worst poet ever to assault the English language.

Up for auction was a collection of 35 poems McGonagall self-published in the 1890s, in which he rambles about everything from a theatre fire and the life of Robert Burns to women's suffrage and Britain's imperial wars. Bad as it was, it did not reach the top estimate of $15,600 at the sale, conducted by Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull.

Still, McGonagall's work outstripped a collection of rare and inscribed Harry Potter books by Edinburgh resident J.K. Rowling, which fetched $12,000 at the same sale. McGonagall's lack of talent was matched only by his delusion and ego. Along with the 35 poems were a portfolio of posters and two copies of his rather short autobiography - "dedicated to himself, knowing none greater."

Known as the "Tayside Tragedian," after his dire poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster," McGonagall was ridiculed during his lifetime. He kept an umbrella with him during recitals for protection from rotten tomatoes. But he has attracted a cult following. Devotees hold annual suppers in his honour at which his poetry is recited and the meal eaten backwards -- dessert first.

Here's a sample of his work:

"Lines in Praise of Professor Blackie":

"Alas! The people's hearts are now full of sorrow,

"For the deceased Professor Blackie of Edinboro';

"Because he was a Christian man, affable and kind,

"And his equal in charitable actions would be hard to find.

"Twas in the year of 1895, March the 2nd, he died at 10 o'clock,

"Which to his dear wife, and his adopted son, was a great shock;

"And before he died he bade farewell to his adopted son and wife,

"Which, no doubt, they will remember during life."

His work lives on. In infamy, perhaps. But at least he's achieved a sort of immortality. We wonder if any of his descendants are alive and writing poetry. We certainly hope not.

More from Writers Write