Revoking the Poetic License

June 10, 2009, 12:16 PM posted in General Discussion

I wanted to post to this group about William McGonagall, perhaps the worst poet in the English language. I really want to encourage the study of Chinese, so I set out looking for a a parallel from the Chinese poetry tradition, and I simply can not find anyone similar.

McGonagall was not a funny poet (mostly sincere), and his rhymes rhymed... he was was not a gifted poet, and simplydidn't know it (to quote Friends of all things).

Here is a snippet from one of his most famous poems:

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.

All I can really take heart from my research is that my culture seems to relish in the sublimely bad, whereas I percieve that whilst there no doubt were some terrible poets in Chinese history... China has chosen to forget them. I can picture them clearly, and I lament the loss of their works.

Another thing that occurs to me - I recognise McGonagall's poems are 'bad', but the essence of its badness is hard to sum up.

Surely if we can appreciate a taste, we must be able to appreciate a bad taste. And although taste is relative - there are some tastes which are universally recognised as being 'bad', but then, many where they are not.... ramble ramble ramble... what am I trying to say...

I realise I am not a critic when it comes to Chinese poetry. I don't really have the faculties. After the translation, and borrowing other people's interpretations, the critical faculty never gets employed. The lesson is what I judge, the quality of the readin is what I judge - but I am a novice when it comes to appreciating Chinese poems. I am going to go back through the PwP and decide if any of them suck.

End of Rant

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June 10, 2009, 12:17 PM

I want to refer you to whole screeths from that website:

Consider if you will McGonagall's "Tribute to Dr. Murison," a piece in which the poet explains how his life had been saved by the physician's humorous prescription:

He told me at once what was ailing me;
He said I had been writing too much poetry,
And from writing poetry I would have to refrain,
Because I was suffering from inflammation of the brain.

On the surface of course these lines merely highlight the connection between McGonagall's defective brain and the incompetent poetry. He doesn't even seem to realize that in the very act of immortalizing Murison he is defying the doctor's orders and risking his own life. 

Sorry for the rant by the way.