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The Worst Lines of Verse
Friday, June 15, 2001

For a start, we can rule out James Grainger's promising line:

'Come, muse, let us sing of rats'

Grainger (1721-67) did not have the courage of his convictions and deleted these words on discovering that his listeners dissolved into spontaneous laughter the instant they were read out.

No such reluctance afflicted Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-67) who was inspired by the subject of war:

'Flash! flash! bang! bang! and we blazed away,
And the grey roof reddened and rang;
Flash! flash! and I felt his bullet flay
The tip of my ear. Flash! bang!'

By contrast, Cheshire cheese provoked John Armstrong (1709-79):

'...that which Cestria sends, tenacious paste
of solid milk...'

While John Bidlake was guided by a compassion for vegetables:

'The sluggard carrot sleeps his day in bed
The cripples pea alone cannot stand.'

George Crabbe (1754-1832) wrote:

'And I was ask'd and authorised to go
To seek the firm of Clutterbuck and Co.'

William Balmford explored the possibilites of religious verse:

'So 'tis with Christians, Nature being weak
While in this world, are liable to leak.'

And William Wordsworth showed that he could do it if he really tried when describing a pond:

'I've measured it from side to side;
Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.'

The poetry of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, received the ultimate accolade in 1667 when Samuel Pepys described it as 'the most ridiculous thing that ever was wrote'. Her method was to dictate in the middle of the night to servants specially posted on cap beds in the ante-room. Of particular interest is her poem 'What is liquid?'.

What is liquid?

All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet
Fire that property can never get
Then 'tis not cold that doth the fire put out.
But 'tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.

William Topaz McGonagall was so giftedly bad that he backed unwittingly into genius. Combining a minimal feel for the English language with a total lack of self-awareness and nil powers of observation, he became a poet, and penned
this great masterpeice from his back room in Paton's Lane, Dundee:

An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan

All hail to the Rev George Gilfillan of Dundee,
He is the greatest preacher I did ever hear or see.
He is a man of genius bright,
And in him his congregation does delight,
Because they find him to be honest and plain.
Affable in temper, and seldom known to complain.
He preaches in a plain straightfoard way
The people flock to hear him night and day,
And hundreds from the doors are often turn'd away,
Because he is the greatest preacher of the present day.
He has written the life or Sir Walter Scott,
And while he lives he will never be forgot,
Nor when he is dead,
Because by his admirers it will often be read;
And fill there minds with wonder and delight,
And wile away the tedious hours on a cold winter's night
He has also written about the Bards of the Bible,
Which occupied nearly three years in which he was not idle,
Because when he sits down to write he does it with might and main
And to get an interview with him it would be almost vain,
And in that he is always right,
For the bible tells us whatever your hands findeth to do,
Do it with all your might.
Rev George Gilfillan of Dundee, I must conclude my muse,
And to write in praise of thee my pen does not refuse,
Nor does it give me pain to tell the world fearlessly, that when
You are dead they shall not look upon your like again.

From 'The book of Heroic Failiues -

The official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great

Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1979,  ISBN 0 7088 1908


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