Did this man really write the worst poem ever?
Poor Theophile Jules-Henri Marzials. The opening lines of his aptly titled poem A Tragedy suggests he may’ve been in a pessimistic mood when he put pen to paper:
The barges down in the river flop.
Written in 1873, beetroot addict (yes, beetroot addict) Marzials’ work has been dubbed the worst poem ever written in the English language.
The poet himself sounded like an interesting chap. He worked at the British Museum and cut quite the eccentric, romantic figure, with long hair, a flowing moustache and silk ties. English novelist called Marzials, ‘The handsomest, the wittiest, the most brilliant and the most charming of poets.’ Marzials also became addicted to chlorodyne – a mixture morphia, chloroform and prussic acid – as well as the inexplicably intoxicating beetroot.
The poem ends:
‘And my head is empty as air –
I can do,
I can dare,
The barges flop
I can dare! I can dare!
And let myself all run away with my head
Kathryn Petras, editor of The Worst Poem Ever Written In The English Language, says the work, ‘Stands out as the absolute epitome of awfulness.’ Personally, we have a soft spot for anyone who manages to use the word ‘plop’ quite so often in their poetry.
But Theophile Marzials has competition – another contender for the worst poem ever written (and, a little cruelly, the accolade of worst poet) in the form of William McGonagall – a 19th century Dundee-based Scottish poet who penned The Tay Bridge Disaster in 1880 – written a year after the real-life tragedy, when all on board a train passing over the bridge were killed in its collapse.
‘Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay,
I now must 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.’
The Scottish Poetry Library describes McGonagall’s poems – of which there are more than 200 – as, ‘Unwitting butchery of the art form, enjoyed for the comic qualities of its erratic scansion, wince-inducing rhymes and naif treatment of weighty subject matter, all of which are present in his most infamous poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster.’