POETS Day! The Tay Bridge Disaster

Photo by National Library of Scotland, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[Ed. Note: This piece was originally posted at ordinary-times.com on 5/19/21 which was a Friday. You can look it up.]

Once again we have a P.O.E.T.S. Day – Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday – so do yourself a favor and weasel your way out of the office and start the weekend when the weekend should begin: on your terms.

I’ll think of you and your clever and resourceful selves enjoying a three or four o’clock cocktail as I begin my marathon drive from Birmingham to Albuquerque with a quick diversion to Austin which will be anything but quick. I’ll be jealous of you and your freedom as I bounce my way along unevenly paved Mississippi highways, constantly under construction Louisiana bottlenecks, and the terrifying Texas roadways where they trick you by letting you drive at 75 mph but then send a jet black Mustang driven by a no nonsense cleanly shaven deputy with sharp creases on his sleeve to ticket you for going 76.

Since you get to be happy and I’m at the mercy of weather and whim and eating terrible fast food at places that thinks I’m kidding when I ask for no mustard, I’m going to do something awful to you. I’m going to give you William McGonagall.

Have you ever listened to Bjork?

I think she’s awful. She’s like a Yoko Ono noise machine that didn’t have the good sense to marry someone famous. Her music drives me nuts. But society, at least an appreciable portion of it, is on my side. Having come to terms as a polite body politic, her music is allowed for purchase but generally shunned in public spaces.

That is not the case with Billy Ocean. I think he’s awful as well but the weight of societal disfavor falls short in this case and allows aural assaults on elevators and in restaurants and as radio bumper music and anywhere else that an unsuspecting listener tries to keep an up tempo mood.

Bjork is, by any measure put forth by someone I would trust to hold a fork in my presence, miles and fathoms or knots and parsecs worse than Billy Ocean. But Billy Ocean is pervasive.

You start to ask yourself meditative questions and wondering about the world. These are the type of questions that you rightly keep to yourself unless you occasionally write about poetry or are the type of person who bothers your friends because you see a cloud that look like a dragon… wait, now it’s a beagle… wait, that looks more like a fry cook betting on the Lakers. Some things are better kept in the rear of your mental inventory than let out into the world. But here I am.

Is mediocrity worse than horrendous? Would that both would go away, but they don’t. Just on the side of not-repellant keeps “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car” in rotation causing much more misery than “All Is Full of Love” would dream of inflicting.

This brings me to today’s poem.

The Tay Bridge Disaster has been called the worst poem ever written. That can’t be true. The world has been inundated with bad poetry at least since the Prussians invented high school sophomores whose parents just didn’t understand and kept a really private notebook that you can’t look at unless maybe you want to get together for coffee some time.

The high school verse gets lost under beds in kids’ rooms where everything is destined to be tossed out when the kid gets a first job and a sewing room is born. Those poems will never bother anyone beyond a few ill-considered tattoos that need covering. This week’s poem is that pinnacle of mediocrity that rides tangential to banishment and still manages to stay in print. William McGonagall forged the path that the Billy Oceans of the world would follow.

I’m not going to break this one down in any way because it’s… Well. Read it. I suspect you’ll be amazed enough. You’ll probably share it with someone.

I should note that everything I’ve read about this poet points to him being a pretty good guy so try to temper your laughter with an appreciation of the hobbyist in all of us.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

William McGonagall – 1825-1902

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 clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say—
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say—
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the people’ hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

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