Sir, — A practical joke has been done to me

I have not featured many, if any, Scottish poets on this blog, even the most noted of all Robert Burns, the Bard of Scotland. So today I will begin to make up for that with a poem by William McGonagall, a fairly prolific poet of the late 1800s. Monty Python once did a parody sketch of McGonagall’s poem, featuring a kilted Michael Palin (I think) declaiming his poem, “Lend me fifty quid to mend my shed”. Great stuff, but the original is quite as good.

In this poem, the poet is inspired to verse by his anger at being given an award, or perhaps payment for a public performance, by the citizens of Dundee which turned out to be not worth very much. And so the poet complains, using the format of a formal letter, beginning with “Sir”, (rather than the softer Dear Sir).

A Poet’s Complaint

Sir, — A practical joke has been done to me
Within the burgh of Dundee,
Which I consider to be a sin,
To present me with a stick ornamented with tin.

Which they said was silver-plated,
But they will find I’m not to be cheated;
Because I’ve found it is only tin.
And at them I’m resolved to laugh and grin.

Because it will never be used by me;
The reason why?— Because it’s a disgrace to Dundee;
And, as for the purse, it’s a shame to be seen
Nearby Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

And the contents therein was but small —
Five shillings and fourpence, that is all;
Which didn’t pay me for one recitation.
Which is a disgrace to the nation.

And in conclusion I will say
I will remember such treatment for many a day,
And he is unworthy to be called brother
That would try to wound the feelings of another.

From <;

The poet’s indignation stems from being given a walking-stick which he thought was decorated with silver, and it turned out it was only decorated with tin and at being paid only five shillings and fourpence, when presumably he expected to earn much more. His revenge is to expose the miserly citizens of Dundee in verse, so that they can be held to ridicule by the literary public. Fair enough…

The Poetry Dude


2 thoughts on “Sir, — A practical joke has been done to me

  1. I never heard of McGonagle until this and your New Year’s post.
    Was he a bit off ? His verse seems sort of child-like…

    He could have unleashed more wit and venom towards the town of Dundee. Or at least more sarcasm.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s