Dundee honours the world's worst poet - the laureate of Tay Bridge

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The Independent Culture

A century after the death of the world's worst poet, the city that ridiculed him in life is to commemorate him with a public monument.

A century after the death of the world's worst poet, the city that ridiculed him in life is to commemorate him with a public monument.

Dundee is now proud to associate itself with William Topaz McGonagall, a poet so bad that his abuse of the laws of rhythm, rhyme and common sense qualify him as a the founding father of modern rap music, according to some academics.

Dundee's City of Discovery campaign is to have the first verse of his most infamous work – which begins: "The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay" – etched in stone beside the river he immortalised.

The monument will form part of a tourist walk taking in some of the areas connected with the self-styled "Poet Laureate of the Tay Bridge".

McGonagall was born in Edinburgh, the son of an Irish cotton weaver, in 1830, and moved with his family to Dundee six years later, where he lived most of his life, working as a handloom weaver in the jute mills. It wasn't until he was 47 that his "career" as a poet began.

His emergence as a "tragedian", a writer of tragedies, gave rise to a favourite pastime among the Dundee audiences of "poet-baiting".

McGonagall was often hired to give public recitals, just so his audiences could make fun of him. Students played cruel hoaxes upon him, none more so than bestowing upon him the honour of the Knight of the White Elephant purported to be granted by King Theebaw of Burmah. McGonagall proceeded to sign it to his broadsheets.

At the height of his powers, he went to Balmoral, 50 miles on foot, in the hope of seeing Queen Victoria. He got no further than the gate and was told never to return.

McGonagall also went to London, lured by forged invitations, and to New York, arriving with only eight shillings. He had to appeal to a Dundee benefactor to get him home. He died of a stroke in Edinburgh in 1902 and was buried in a pauper's grave in Greyfriars.

But, as is often the fate of men of talent or genius, McGonagall is now known all over the world. More than 280 websites are devoted to his work and he inspired performers such as Billy Connolly and the late Spike Milligan.

McGonagall's Classic

Part of the worst poem of all time, the first verse of which is to be inscribed in stone.

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.
'Twas about seven o'clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clods seem'd to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem'd to say --
"I'll blow down the Bridge of Tay."

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