The Second Battle of Glencoe

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2017, on the 7th day of October at 4:48 pm

A recent Scottish news story has inspired a new gem by regular contributor Stephen Midgley:

’Twas on the 5th day of August in the year 2017
That a letter was delivered in Aboyne, not far from Aberdeen,
Addressed to the director of Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing, David Shand,
And sent by solicitors acting for the National Trust for Scotland.

‘You must cease’, it read, ‘to call your waterproof jacket by the name ‘Glencoe’,
As this name belongs to us now, and if you use it you will be our foe.
For the National Trust doth own Glencoe, and we are very sorry to say
That henceforth he who dares to utter its name will rue the day.

‘And furthermore, you must remove the name Glencoe from your website,
For if not, we will attack Hilltrek with all our might.
The same doth apply to all your future products and packaging,
And if you disobey, the consequences for you will be most damaging’.

Upon reading the Trust’s letter, David’s heart was filled with dismay,
But he called together his small band of workers, and boldly he did say:
‘We may be few in number, but we will stand up to these bullies
And, what is more, the press and public will be our allies.’

Meanwhile the mighty hordes of the NTS drew up in grand array,
And prepared for the dreadful battle of Glencoe without delay,
But the courageous Hilltrek band did show no fear
For by now many thousands of supporters for them did clap and cheer.

To witness the spectacle, the press and public had assembled
And, upon seeing this, the NTS forces with fear they trembled.
‘Come, my brave lads’, cried David, ‘let us assail them right manfully,
And we will make these bullying tyrants for to flee.’

At the charge of the bayonet, the hearts of the enemy were filled with fear
And so they did turn tail and run from the field, I do declare.
Soon the National Trust saw that further resistance was no use
And hastily their leaders did with David seek a truce.

And so a meeting was arranged ‘twixt Hilltrek and the NTS
At which the dispute was settled without further bitterness,
For the National Trust for Scotland did humbly withdraw their demands,
Whereupon the two sides did finally shake hands.

‘We are sorry’, said the NTS, ‘for acting like dictators,
Although ’twas not entirely our fault, but that of our solicitors,
Who also take instructions from Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump,
And, in the present case, to the wrong conclusion they did jump.’

Thus was the Battle of Glencoe decided without delay
And the hearts of the Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing band were light and gay,
As victory was declared for common sense and reason,
And they could continue to supply outdoor clothes for every season.

So they did soon return to a heroes’ welcome in Aboyne
Which doth Aberdeenshire’s beautiful River Dee adjoin,
For now the world knows that supplying the Glencoe jacket is no crime
And all because of a battle which will be remember’d for a very long time.

A Tribute to William Topaz McGonagall

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2015, on the 27th day of October at 7:39 pm

Reader Ian Colville sends in this gem which, he tells me, he has “recited at several open mic events and suchlike, including at an alternative to Burns’ Night”. I hope he got a better reception from his audience than William did! As you’ll see, it’s both a tribute and a biography…

A Tribute to William Topaz McGonagall

All hail to William T. McGonagall,
Who shall be remember’d as a poet, above all.
Alas! we should be very sorry to say
That his life was taken when he passed away
On the last but one day of September, 1902,
Poor and forlorn, with a hole in his shoe.

He will be recalled for a very long time
In the land of his birth where poets can still shine,
A man of genius, whose raw poetry
Contained verses and rhymes so silvery.
Two hundred poems from the Jewel of Dundee,
That marvellous man, steeped in gallantry.

A weaver by trade our man of the loom,
He turned to the stage, where his talent he’d groom
When he paid for to play the role of Macbeth
And his strong manly style was a lisping success,
And Grocer’s Hall, down in old Castle Street,
Saw his Richard the Third give Dundee a treat.

He worked as a poet and performing artiste,
Never straying too far from the coast on the east,
Except for a jaunt to visit the Queen,
Whom sadly he never got to have seen,
And a trip to the south, and a ship to New York
In the eighteen eighties, to try and find work.

’Twas on a fine day back in beautiful Dundee
Our Topaz received the spirit of poetry,
As he wrote of his muse in old Paton’s Lane,
When all of a sudden his body was aflame,
A voice in his ears crying, “Write, Topaz, write!”
And he penned an Address to a Reverend’s delight.

In eighteen hundred and seventy-eight,
He got up a volume of verse that was great.
Those ‘Gems’ in its pages would fill your heart with delight
While seated round the fireside on a cold winter’s night.
He wrote about Burns and the Silv’ry Tay,
And the loss of men’s lives on the last Sabbath day.

He found lucrative work in the town’s circus troupe,
You’d think that a sign of how low he would stoop,
Reciting his poems whilst the raucous crowd threw
Stale bread at the stage, and raw eggs and flour, too,
But imagine his horror at the banning decree,
He made so much a night; nigh on a Pound, nearly!

Though born in Auld Reekie, he’s a son of Dundee
Where citizens formed an Appreciation Society
To the cult of McGonagall; to the man and the myth,
To Scotland’s worst poet, its awesome wordsmith
Who died as a pauper, it’s said with such sorrow,
And rests with no headstone, in Greyfriars, Edinburgh.

Though he claimed at the time to have “heretical detractors”
I’m sure you’ll agree, there are mitigating factors.
The most popular ‘worst poet’ who’s so bad he’s good,
Has given so much enjoyment from poetry so crude.
So please, one and all, raise a glass and let’s call
For a toast in remembrance of dear McGonagall!

A McGonagall Christmas Card

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 24th day of December at 11:15 am

Reader Eric Sangwine sends in a Christmas card design that he’s used amongst family and friends. Inspired by a certain seasonal work of genius, it should help you get into the festive spirit:

You can see a couple more of Eric’s wonderful illustrations (though not McGoangall-related) here.

My I take this opportunity to wish everybody a wonderful Christmas and a disaster-free new year!

Eck o’ the Cudgel

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 7th day of October at 1:21 pm

The long campaign for Scottish independence ended last month, either in disaster or with a disaster averted, depending on which side you favour. Either way, it was an event worthy of commemoration in our favoured poetic style, and who better to supply a suitable ode than the talented Mr Midgley? Here’s his latest effort…

Eck o’ the Cudgel

Part I: Scourge o’ the Sassenachs

’Twas in the fair city of Edinburgh, not many years ago
That the hearts of Scots politicians were full of dismay and woe
For despite the Holyrood parliament they were still being ruled from London
Under the cruel regime of the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition.

But a bold wee man stood up, and to his companions he did say,
“I will rid ye of these tyrants from down south without delay.
For I will be your leader, if you will vote for me,
And I will make the English brutes from Scotland for to flee.

For my name is Eck o’ the Cudgel, and I hail from Linlithgow,
As did Mary, Queen of Scots several centuries ago.
And the people will soon see that of Scotland I’m the flower,
But Holyrood’s not strong enough, I must have absolute power.”

And to his compatriots he did boast without dismay,
“With this stout cudgel I will drive these sassenachs away,
And then ye shall have independence and liberty
With nobody else to govern ye or decide your fate but me.”

By the year 2011 he and his party were dancing in their glee,
For in the Scottish parliament they had won a majority.
So wee Eck took up his cudgel, and boldly he did say,
“I will be your saviour, and these English we will flay.

From them we will break free by holding a referendum
And when the deed is done, back home to England we will send ’em,
For ’twill be held in the year 2014, Bannockburn’s centenary,
When King Robert the Bruce did defeat his English adversary.

We will woo Labour voters and they will soon be fooled,
But once I am in charge, they’ll know what ’tis like to be ruled.
We’ll win the votes of the poor and sick by making them many a promise,
Which of course we need not keep, once we are in office.

We’ll even let the teens vote too, and they’ll all vote for me,”
(Although he little knew that in truth ’twas not to be)
“And, to help the voters decide, we’ll put to them this simple question:
‘Do you agree with everyone else that Scotland should be an independent nation?
Just put your cross here in this ‘Yes’ box without hesitation’.”
But the Electoral Commission wouldn’t allow this and so, to Eck’s dismay,
In the end the question had to be phrased in a more neutral way.

Meanwhile, Eck did rule the Scots with growing autocracy,
For he had not grasped too well the true meaning of democracy,
And he did not take kindly to any form of opposition
Such as people writing about him without his permission.

And the great leader’s grin would quickly turn into a scowl
As he suppressed all disagreement by fair means or foul.
Oft did Eck brandish his cudgel to subdue the opposition
And many innocent folk he did beat into submission.

But by now many Scots were saying to one another, “Hoots!
Surely this man Salmond is getting too big for his boots!”
For he was becoming a pocket dictator most fearsome to be seen
Whose favourite world leaders were Gaddafi and Putin.

Part II: Half-baked Home Eckonomics Project

By now the time for the referendum was drawing near
And the hearts of both the yes and no campaigns were filled with fear;
Oh, heaven! how the opposing packs were fiercely biting and snarling,
The Yes Scotland forces led by Eck, and Better Together by Alastair Darling.

“We will win sixty-five per cent of the vote,” the yes campaign did say,
(Yet ’twas but a vain hope that would not be fulfilled on the day)
“And we will have at least five daily papers on our side,”
But they only won backing from the Sunday Herald, which their opponents did deride.

Worldwide support for his campaign Eck did eagerly canvas
And luckily, in order for him not to embarrass,
North Korea declared the support of their great nation
And their mighty leader Kim Jong-Un threatened England with annihilation.
Then Eck received a further massive boost to his campaign
When he won the approval of Russian separatists in the Ukraine,
Who soon did prove their worth by shooting down a passenger plane.

Meanwhile, back in what thus far was still the United Kingdom,
The battle ’twixt the two sides was taking many a form,
Such as love-bombs and celebrity endorsements, which might some voters sway. 
“But we do not hate the English,” many Scots people did say,
“And far rather with them together we would stay.

Some of our best friends are sassenachs, our wives and sweethearts too,
For they are not a foreign race, but our sisters and brothers true,
And most of us have family and friends south of the border,
But needing a passport to visit them would be totally out of order.”

“And what are we to use for money?” they anxiously did cry;
“I’ll let you know about that in due course,” came Eck’s reply,
“Perhaps ’twill be the pound, or maybe the ecku,
Just vote for me in the meantime, and then I will tell you.
We’ll sort out the minor details later, such as currency,
For I am a politician and so you can trust me.”

“This is all about power,” declared Eck’s friend Jim Sillars,
In former times the scourge of many of the establishment’s pillars;
“Our opponents will soon learn the meaning of sillarisation
The day after we’ve been voted in by the entire Scots nation.”
And he did threaten the dissenters with a Day of Reckoning,
Thus revealing that to him cruel dementia was beckoning.

In the final days, northwards did march a mighty band
Of  party leaders Cameron, Clegg and Milliband,
And they did make many promises of further devolution
To persuade the Scots people to stay part of the great British union.

Both sides their flags did wave and their sabres they did rattle,
And upon the very eve of the final battle
An impassioned speech for unity was made by Gordon Brown,
Which did cause wee Eck’s supporters deeply for to frown.

Part III: He Thinks ’Tis All Over

And so ’twas in the year 2014, on the 18th day of September,
Which the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK will long remember,
That at last the referendum was held to take the decision
On whether Bonnie Scotland should be an independent nation.

Most opinion polls were showing that, in spite of all the hype,
The voters off Eck’s face that smug expression soon would wipe
But Eck sat at his command post, looking forward to the fun
As he prepared to celebrate when the counting was all done.

For he thought ’twas all over, and indeed he was half right,
Because ’twould soon be over for him upon that fateful night,
And as dawn broke, the forces of separation were made for to flee
Till finally the vanquished Eck did cry “Alas, woe is me!”

“We was robbed,” he did complain upon the very next day,
“’Twas the fault of the old fogeys,” he sulkily did say,
“For stealing from the young this great opportunity away,
And, by jings, for this treachery most dearly they will pay,
For I will take from them their bus passes away.”
And yet statistics show that his contention held no water
For ’twas the young as well as old had participated in the slaughter.

And so wee Eck resigned, to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon,
Who to step forthwith into his shoes did need no urging;
For ’twas ever thus, that when the surly tyrant gets his comeuppance,
Apart from him the rest of the world do not give tuppence.

And so ’twas for Eck, although his tactics were ruthless,
In the end his cudgel turned out to be useless,
For the canny Scots saw through Eck’s glib facade
And our hero was hoist with his own petard.

— Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgements to William McGonagall

With additional thanks to: Scottish Review, Herald Scotland, The Times, The Scotsman, The Guardian, The Independent, Private Eye, Uncyclopedia, John Lamb, and the YouTube video No thanks Mr. Salmond

NOTE: For those unfamiliar with Scottish politics and/or the fine poetry purveyed on this site, the title of Stephen’s piece alludes to Alex Salmond’s nickname of “Wee Eck,” and this dubious poetic masterpiece.

McGonagalls in the Washington Post

Filed under: Media,Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 9th day of August at 4:57 pm

Perhaps taking a lead from The Spectator, they’ve been holding a write-your-own-poetic-gem competition in the Washington Post, inviting their readers to write “bad poems about “a modern tragedy” à la McGonagall.”

The winning effort, from one Thomas Blaine of Virginia, reads rather more like Ogden Nash than the great Poet and Tragedian, but it’s a creditable effort nonetheless:

On Not Being Invited to Kim and Kanye’s Wedding

I knew it was coming, keeping up’s been my passion
That special invite from the family Kardashian.
When it didn’t arrive, as yet another week started,
My heart, it was rent, and my soul near departed.
So I went to my sister’s third wedding in Torrance
Instead of that very special one in the city of Florence.
And the memory of my sister’s party, OMG, how it pales,
With the one where my heart was, in the Chateau de Versailles.

You can read this and many more of the entries on the Post competition’s results page.

The Harrowing Tale of the Edinburgh Trams

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 26th day of May at 8:00 am

The end of this month will see the long-awaited opening of the Edinburgh tram system. To mark this historic occasion, Stephen Midgley has provided us with a Reader’s Gem of truly epic proportions (on time and under budget, I might add):

The Harrowing Tale of the Edinburgh Trams

I. Heart of a City Filled with Dismay

Sound the trumpets, beat the drums,
For the opening day of our capital’s trams!
Rejoice and sing, ye travellers of Edinboro’,
For ’tis the end of all your misery and sorrow.

At last the work is finished on the new tramline
Which the people have awaited for a very long time;
’Tis an epic tale of hope, folly, chaos and calamity,
A harrowing transport saga which I’ll now relate to ye.

’Twas in the year of 1956, on the 16th day of November,
Which the citizens of Edinburgh would long remember,
That the last of the old trams ran along Princes Street,
And thereafter other modes of transport the people’s needs must meet.

“Fear ye not”, said the leaders of the city’s Corporation,
“For there are buses and other means of transportation;
Besides, many folk now have conveyances of their own
And so there will be no cause for ye to moan.”

But as the years went by the traffic did greatly grow,
And journeys through the city became ever more slow;
And the Council, as by then ’twas called, encountered much opprobrium,
For on the capital’s streets ’twas chaos and pandemonium.

Motorists also were in great dismay and woe
Because where for to park their cars they did not know,
And misery and frustration were plain to see in their faces
Because there were not sufficient parking spaces.

But the council devised many ways their coffers for to fill
From the pockets of the folk who in the capital did dwell,
So the parking office clerks did dance in their glee
As they raked in every meter charge, clamping and recovery fee;

And the hearts of the parking attendants felt light and gay
As they affixed their penalty notices to windscreens without the least delay,
Stating: “A large amount of money you must speedily pay,
Or else your heart will be filled with even more dismay.”

II. The Council’s Magnificent Master Plan

But in the year 2001 the council announced to the Edinburgh folk,
“We intend for to solve all your transport problems at a stroke,
For we have conceived a cunning plan,
Namely, the return of the electric tram.

Like the world’s great cities, we will be as good as the rest,
Such as Moscow, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Budapest,
Or Prague, Milan, Toronto and Amsterdam,
Where the people can travel everywhere by tram.

So we will have tramlines in several directions,
All meeting in the centre, with excellent connections.
Our plans are bold, the lines well placed and long;
What could there possibly be for to go wrong?”

Some brave souls expressed grave reservations
Concerning the council’s costing calculations,
Saying the trams’ revenue would be less and the expense would greatly rise
But alas! the council paid no heed to what the doubters did advise.

Countless meetings and discussions took place,
But the tramlines soon diminished while the cost did rise apace,
Until eventually there would be just one line instead of three
And even this far shorter than ’twas meant to be.

By the year 2006 with the contractors ’twas agreed
That the project without further delay would proceed,
With one line from the airport to Leith, via Princes Street,
And in the year 2011 the work would be complete.

But the laying of the tramlines saw great trouble and delay
Which filled the people’s hearts with dismay,
And the closures and chaos in the streets of Edinboro’
Did cause many a citizen’s brow deeply for to furrow.

For some streets were dug up and closed for several years,
Reducing traders and shoppers alike to tears,
And businesses protested with all their might
At the terrible effects of planning blight.

The streets were forever full of cages, and men in yellow jackets,
Their machinery all the while making a fearful racket.
And the slow progress of the project caused great despair,
Especially when Princes Street was dug up for a second time, I do declare!

By now ’twas far behind schedule and well over budget,
But the council continued to try for to fudge it,
Because unfortunately the thought had not entered their minds
To agree upon the cost ere the contract was signed.

One option they faced, which I must not fail to mention,
Was the embarrassing prospect of complete cancellation,
But the councillors could not bear with shame for to blush
If down the lavatorium their entire tram project they would flush.

After many more months of dispute and delay
The contractors unto the city council did say:
“Tell you what we’ll do for you, squire,
If to have your new tramline you still do desire,

You can have half the line for double the cost.”
To the council this seemed too good a bargain to be lost,
For ‘twas said that in arithmetic they were none too bright
And that some were scarce able for to read and write.

So they replied: “Your generous offer is just what we need”,
And so without dismay ’twas agreed,
At St Andrew Square the line would now stop short
Instead of continuing as far as Leith port.

III. The Battle of Haymarket

Then came a great battle, fierce and notorious,
Fought ‘twixt the councillors in a manner most furious
In the year of 2011, on August the 25th day,
Which will long be remember’d with horror and dismay.

For now ’twas proposed to shorten the line even more,
To avoid further rising costs which would cause distress most sore.
So there would be no trams along Princes Street after all,
Although the tracks had already been laid and were plain to be seen by all!
But instead the line from the airport would finish at Haymarket,
And if people wanted to go any further they would have to take a bus or walk it.

The Haymarket battalions faced the St Andrew Square brigade
Who were for keeping the line into the city as already agreed.
Oh! what savage slaughter was seen on that day
As both armies with the bayonet did charge without dismay.

This way and that the bloody battle swayed
As both sides their arguments vehemently made;
And many councillors on the floor dead or wounded did lay,
But when at last the fight was o’er, ’twas the Haymarket hordes had won the day!

The calamitous decision was announced without delay;
Oh, heaven! how the people’s hearts were filled with dismay,
Because all sensible men and women confesses
That the city council must have taken leave of their senses.

“I don’t believe it!” people in the streets did say,
And the Scottish press did have a field day;
The Evening News at the councillors much ridicule did poke
With its front page headline exclaiming “WHAT A JOKE!”
Depicting them as clowns, each one with a red nose,
And inviting voters the silly elves to depose
As soon as the next opportunity arose.

But worse was yet to come, for the very next day,
To the councillors’ horror and great dismay,
The Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney,
Did heap upon them still further ignominy
By issuing a statement without delay
In which to the foolish council he did say:

“When the government agreed to chip in with a few bob
’Twas on the assumption you were going for to do a decent job,
But you’ll not be getting a penny more from us
If you expect travellers to get off the tram at Haymarket and wait for a bus.

So your government grant you can now forget,
For the remaining millions you will no longer get,
And any further subsidy we will only pay
If you see to it that your tramline goes all the way.”

And so, after all the fearful carnage and slaughter,
The Haymarket plan was now dead in the water.
Then the council yet again met for further discussion
And agreed to revert to the St Andrew Square option.

So the outcome of the Battle of Haymarket was reversed,
And the foolish proposal would forever be cursed;
So let us be thankful its proponents were unhorsed,
For of all possible choices ’twas by far the worst.

IV. Tramway to Paradise

Now that the project no longer was doomed,
The work on the tramlines once more was resumed;
And at long last, on the 31st day of May in the year 2014,
The tramcars are here, and most handsome to be seen.

So finally they’re running, although several years late,
And let us all pray ’twas worth the wait,
But after all the havoc, the trials and tribulations,
’Tis now the time for joyful celebrations.

So, proud citizens of Edinburgh, hold your heads up high
As the trams along their new lines speedily do fly,
For a splendid conveyance is the electric tram
And to gainsay it there’s few people can.

Let us hope those one billion pounds have been well spent
And that the service will be extremely efficient,
And may the twelve new bridges be well built and strong
To defy the Storm Fiend as the trams roll along.

But, citizens, I warn ye to beware of the tramcar’s dangers,
Especially if to this mode of transport ye be strangers:
Pedestrians, pay heed to its stealthy approach
And take care upon its path not to encroach.

Ye car drivers, watch and listen for the trams, and to them give way
Or else your hearts will soon be filled with dismay,
For if to obstruct the tram’s progress ye durst
Your car will undoubtedly come off the worst;

And never park your vehicle on or near the line,
For ’twill quickly be removed and you’ll pay a large fine.
Ye cyclists, be warned to cross the tramlines at right angles
Or else you’ll be unseated, and your front wheel mangled.

Tram passengers, heed my advice and do not dare
To board the tramcar without paying your fare,
Though if to observe this rule ye should fail
At least you’ll not have very far to trail,
For the tram stops at Saughton, close by the jail.

But now at last I must conclude my muse
By urging the people their new tram service to use,
For ‘twould be a great pity, and by no means funny,
If it all turned out to be a ridiculous waste of money.

So, ye travellers of Edinburgh, be advised by me
And step aboard your new tramcars with joyful alacrity,
For the tram doth bring an end to all your misery and woe
Provided ’tis to the airport ye wish for to go.

Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgments to William McGonagall

With additional, grateful acknowledgments to: Edinburgh Evening News, The Scotsman, Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh Trams, Scott Griffith, Chris Hunt at McGonagall Online, Pete Gregson at Kids Not Suits, Aldo Broon at Edinburgh Trambles, and the makers of the Hitler Downfall parody video Edinburgh Trams Fiasco.

McGonagall on Independence

Filed under: Media,Readers’ Gems,Web Links; in the year 2014, on the 24th day of May at 6:34 pm

Readers’ Gems have been appearing in The Spectator today, in response to their weekly writing competition. Asked to “give William Topaz McGonagall a chance to comment on Scottish independence,” the competitors responded with some excellent (if that’s the right term) efforts:

Bounteous Heavens, let us all rejoice!
For the People of Scotland have been given a Choice
And there is to be a National Referendum
For which we must thank the Scottish Nationalists and London.
But how many will vote No and how many will vote Yes
Only God knows though other clever People may guess
And I think a terrible Excitement will have mounted
Until all the Votes of the People have been carefully counted.

The article also sported a neat summary of the Poet and Tragedian for those poor benighted souls as yet unacquainted with him:

The deluded handloom weaver from Dundee built his reputation on appalling yet beguiling works of inadvertent comic genius. Unhampered by self-awareness, and buoyed up by uncrushable self-belief, he forged ahead with his art in the face of universal mockery and derision. Here is a particularly awful line from his most famous poem, ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ of 1880:

‘And the cry rang out all o’er the town, Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down.’

McGonagall has had the last laugh, though: while most of his Victorian contemporaries have slid into oblivion, the Tayside Tragedian still has devoted fans more than a century after his death and several volumes of his work remain resolutely in print.

If anybody feels the urge to make their own entry to the independence debate, you know where to send it…

A Gem of the People, by the People, for the People

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2013, on the 19th day of November at 8:00 am

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the giving of the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln. These few words that Lincoln said “the world will little note, nor long remember” have become perhaps the best-known speech in American history. Is there any more that can be learned about this famous oration? Well, apparently there is!

By an astonishing coincidence, regular contributor Stephen Midgley has unearthed a document that casts the President’s words in a whole new light…

McGonagall at Gettysburg
or
Guidance for Mr. Lincoln, from a Scots Poetic Genius, on how to make a Good Speech

’Twas in the year of 1776, and on July the 4th day
That our people declared independence without dismay,
For on that date a new nation was founded,
Which upon certain noble principles was grounded.

Those principles were liberty and equality;
And oh! how the people did dance in their glee,
For they would no longer pay taxes to far-away kings
And they could buy their goods with dollars instead of shillings.

Now, eighty-seven years later, we are engaged in a war
For to test whether such a nation can long endure,
And because the backs of the slaves in the South are sore,
For of cruel abuse and punishment they can take no more.

Here on this field was fought a great battle,
Of which the world for a very long time will prattle;
Our Union troops were led by General Meade,
And to a man they all fought very bravely indeed.

But alas! I am very sorry to say
That many thousands of lives were lost that day,
And on the two days that preceded it;
But ’twas a victory and, by God, we needed it.

For in the end the rebel hordes were made for to flee,
Even though they were commanded by Robert E. Lee,
And in spite of that general’s undoubted charisma
Our forces defeated him without any stigma.

The world will not for very long remember
What we say here on this 19th day of November,
But ’tis rather those who fought here who’ll be remember’d
Because many of them were killed, or at least dismember’d.

Now ’tis for the rest of us to finish the task they began,
And to gainsay it there’s very few people can.
So let us ensure these men died not in vain,
And that in future no one will have cause for to complain.

Therefore, fellow citizens, be advised by me,
Whether ye be of high or low degree,
That the hearts of the people will be filled with elation
If a new birth of freedom be had by this nation.

And our final resolution is really quite simple:
That government of the people, by the people, for the people,
For which there’s a demand in every clime,
Shall not perish from the earth for a very long time.

Footnote

The above poetic gem, unmistakably the work of William McGonagall, was recently discovered among the Lincoln family’s private papers. In addition to its content, its very existence is interesting for two reasons: firstly, it indicates that McGonagall was already practising the art of poetry some years earlier than had hitherto been supposed; and, secondly, it could shed an entirely new light on the poet’s relationship with other great figures of the age. It is possible that, after Mr. Lincoln had given his Address and it had received widespread international coverage, McGonagall felt convinced that he could improve upon it and, somewhat in the manner of the renaissance parody Mass, decided to fashion an altogether grander and more memorable work based upon the original material. In a spirit of helpfulness, the poet would naturally have sent the President a copy of the resulting lay.

It is equally plausible, however, that the poem may have been the result of Mr. Lincoln’s approaching the Scots poet and tragedian for advice and suggestions in advance of his forthcoming address at Gettysburg. If so, this would explain why the President, having made liberal use of the poet’s ideas in his speech, would have chosen to keep McGonagall’s document private – being understandably reluctant to reveal that most of what became known as “his” Gettysburg Address, and the ideas expressed therein, were in fact largely the work of another.

Either way, admirers of William McGonagall – and indeed of Abraham Lincoln – will wish to compare the two versions and judge their respective merits for themselves.

— Stephen Midgley, with acknowledgments to William McGonagall and Abraham Lincoln

A Tribute from Germany

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2013, on the 10th day of November at 1:33 am

Esther D. writes from Germany with this tribute to the bard’s historical output:

W. T. McGonagall – The world’s worst poet or a great local historian

We must ask ourselves: Was he the worst poet, or a great historian?!

His unique ability to give accounts of his days was absolutely remarkable.
Only a few of the so-called Oxbridgian poets give such a well-detailed (and for everyman`s understanding)account of their days without going overboard with negative personal judgements.
Of their accounts I can only say: hardly dependable!
W. T. McGonagall spoke of real events that occurred during his life time giving us, if you will, an eye-witness report and yet he is mocked – just because he did not first consult with Shakespearean scholars.
Well, BOO you! And I mean you, you and Shakespeare, too, not forgetting also you Lars.

It is most funny how apparently intelligent folks read the works of a nation’s (I understand also the world´s) worst poet and yet these very intelligent folks do not understand that what he created were not simply works of poetry but grand historical manuscripts.
So, who is the worst, the poet or the reader?!
Hmm, I wonder!
And I am not even in Scotland standing in my shoes.
But in Deutschland sitting on my couch writing this but with no one to schmooze.

I guess ye much prefer the cock and bull-shit accounts given by imaginative modern-day wanna-be historians.
The great scholars who produce books filled with “what I think happened” AKA fanciful truths.
W. T. McGonagall accounts may be mostly about his local surroundings, but should nonetheless be treated as useful historical accounts just as those from other great historians.
Not even Shakespeare was able to give a poetic account of his day without spicing it up with fiction, and lots of it.
Mr McGonagall´s works should not be compared with Mr Shakespeare´s – no artist should be compared with the other as the creativity, and indeed the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder.
See splashing a bucket of paint on to a canvas and calling it art…no comment – I leave you to it.

His poems were, in my humble opinion, well written just with weak rhyming – So what?!
Should they not be seen as his own literal creations just as Shakespeare created his own world of writing??!
Has any of you who mock him ever heard of literal creativity??!! It seems NOT!
To me, his idea of literal creativity is much inviting.

Sir W. T. McGonagall was in every way literature is to be understood – a genius!
For someone with little or no education to come up with what he came up with – his writing, his determination to pursue his dreams, his idea of self-marketing…is bloody well impressive!
Even those J.K. Rowling loving twats will agree with this.
It just comes to prove that even in those days no one needed Oxbridge and co to produce a work of genius.
So, aloud I say to all ye naysayers read his works with understanding and stop being repulsive.

Mr W.T. McGonagall was just a poor man trying to make ends meet and darn he did!
He made two contrasting ends called the queen´s gate, and a poor man´s weary legs meet.
Pompous Victoria jealous that this she couldn’t accomplish, she hid.
A good thing England did not make him king as he would have missed the ship to New York´s tea and bread, and bread and meat.

A Scotsgirl I am not– just someone who tries to encourage the different faces of creativity, and one who recognises a good history book.
I endeavoured to change your perception about one of the world’s great historians, this I hope I have archived, and now I must go cook.

Gem Outage Resolved Poetically

Filed under: Readers’ Gems,Site News; in the year 2013, on the 4th day of November at 9:04 am

On Friday, I made a quick change to the site to redirect visitors to the non-existent /gems/ directory to somewhere more useful. I checked it was working, and went off to enjoy my weekend; not (alas) in the “bonnie highlands floral”, but in the not quite so salubrious surroundings of Milton Keynes. Imagine my dismay as I returned to this email from alert reader Simon Levene:

Dear Mr Hunt, I see with no delight
That a celebrated McGonagall ballad has vanished from your site;
When I click on the link to find the “Fall of Coomassie”
I find that your webmaster must have fatally damaged his chassis,
Because although links to this poem are scattered thickly on the ground
A cruel error message says bluntly “Page not Found.”
Unless you can help me, the outcome of this situation will be far from funny –
I shall have to go and buy my own copy of the Great Man’s ballads, with my own money.

In fact, not only had my “fix” blocked access to the Fall of Coomassie, but to all the other gems as well! Fortunately, I immediately realised where I had gone wrong, and was soon able to put things right. A reply was sent to Mr Levene:

It’s worse than that! I know you will be shocked
To learn that access to each of the poetic gems was blocked.
It was due to my own hasty actions that the site was accidentally nixed
But thanks to your tip-off it has now all been fixed.
May your weekend continue happy and serene,
And without having to part with any notes bearing the image of Her Majesty the Queen.

An acknowlegement followed soon after:

Dear Mr Hunt, before you can say “Michael Finnegan”
The works of the Great Tragedian are filling up my screen again,
And this is a matter of great rejoicing down south, as you know
Because we have been having to make do with the works of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and Co.
So although such laborious work must have interfered with your enjoyment of the Sabbath day
The Great Man’s followers all send you a heartfelt “Hooray!”

So the moral of this story, for me, is not to make major changes to the site on a Friday afternoon without properly testing the results. My thanks to Simon for pointing out the problem so promptly (and wittily). If you spot any issues on the site, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, whether or not you do so in verse!

Older Posts »