William Topaz McGonagall, supposedly the worst poet in history, lies just over the road in an unmarked Greyfriars Kirkyard grave. Scholars argue his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary and ill-advised imagery combine to make him accidentally amusing at best—at worst, repulsive to the attuned poetic ear. We reckon he was partial to a couple of tipples and was actually intentionally ludicrous. Either way, some kind of magic keeps his name alive and cropping up in all kinds of ‘literary’ circles, from The Goon Show to Harry Potter.
William McGonagall also inspired the village bard named Magonaglix in French writer René Goscinny’s Asterix comics and sparked Terry Pratchett’s imagination to create the Nac Mac Feegle battle poet, Gonnagle, for his Discworld series. A Gonnagle, described perfectly in the following quote, repels the enemy through the awfulness of his poetry: ‘Training up a successor, the old bard congratulates the young one: “That, lad,” he said proudly, “was some of the worst poetry I have heard for a long time. It was offensive to the ear and a torrrture to the soul…a verrry commendable effort! We’ll make a Gonnagle out o’ ye yet!”
The Folklore of Discworld which describes Terry Pratchett’s universe notes that this bit of the series is ‘a touching tribute to the memory of William McGonagall, the famously excruciating Scottish poet’.
No matter what anyone says about him, we love our slightly contentious namesake, and you can peruse a stanza or two on your way down to the lavvy. Enjoy! Or not.
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