One of my favorite books is a tattered paperback tucked safely into my bookshelf, called The Book of Heroic Failures: The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. It’s a humorous compilation of things that just didn’t go right.
Two of the more charming chapters introduce us to the worst British and the worst American poets. The worst British poet is William Topas McGonagall:
He 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.
Sitting in his back room in Paton’s Lane, Dundee, wishing he was on holiday, he was seized with a desire to write poetry. He paced the room, saying, ‘But I know nothing about poetry.’ Thus qualified he sat down and penned his first great work:
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 complaint.
It goes on, but I won’t torture you. In any event, McGonagall was a piker when compared to America’s entry into the poetic fray, Julia Moore, “The Sweet Singer of Michigan.” Mark Twain, with his appreciation for the ridiculous, was a great fan.
Her verse is mainly concerned with violent death — the great fire of Chicago and the yellow fever epidemic proved natural subjects for her pen.
Whether the death was by drowning, by fits or by runaway sleigh, the formula was the same:
Have you heard of the dreadful fate
Of Mr. P. P. Bliss and wife?
Of their death I will relate,
And also others lost their life
(in the) Ashbula Bridge disaster,
Where so many people died.
Even if you started out reasonably healthy in one of Julia’s poems, the chances are that after a few stanzas you would be at the bottom of a river or struck by lightening. A critic of the said she was ‘worse than a Gatlin gun’ and in one slim volume counted 21 killed and 9 wounded.
Incredibly some newspapers were critical of her work, even suggesting that the sweet singer was ‘semi-literate.’ Her reply was forthright: ‘The Editors that has spoken in this scandalous manner, have went beyond reason.’ She added that ‘literary work is very difficult to do.’
The above examples of heroically bad verse have a certain antiquated charm and strive for moral uplift. The same cannot be said for the newest entrant into the lists, Gunter Grass — former Nazi, current Leftist, fulminating antisemite, and terrible poet. Owing to his past fame, Gunter managed to get published a poem that simultaneously castigates Israel as a tyrannical, genocidal cesspool, while celebrating Iran’s wonderfulness:
That is the claimed right to the formal preventive aggression
which could erase the Iranian people
dominated by a bouncer and moved to an organized jubilation,
because in the area of his competence there is
the construction of the atomic bomb.
Now, since my country,
from time to time touched by unique and exclusive crimes,
obliged to justify itself,
again for pure business aims – even if
with fast tongue we call it “reparation” -
should deliver another submarine to Israel,
with the specialty of addressing
annihilating warheads where the
existence of one atomic bomb is not proved
but it wants evidence as a scarecrow,
I say what must be said.
And I admit: I won’t be silent
because I had enough of the Western hypocrisy;
Because I wish that many will want
to get rid of the silence,
exhorting the cause of a recognizable
risk to the abdication, asking that a free and permanent control
of the Israel atomic power
and the Iran nuclear bases
will be made by both the governments
with an international supervision.
The poem is not more melodious in its original German:
Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag,
der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte
und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte
iranische Volk auslöschen könnte,
weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau
einer Atombombe vermutet wird.
Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land,
das von ureigenen Verbrechen,
die ohne Vergleich sind,
Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird,
wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch
mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert,
ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel
geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität
darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe
dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz
einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist,
doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will,
sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.
Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr,
weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens
überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen,
es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien,
den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr
zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und
gleichfalls darauf bestehen,
daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle
des israelischen atomaren Potentials
und der iranischen Atomanlagen
durch eine internationale Instanz
von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.
John Hinderaker, who was the first person I saw, not just to report on the story, but actually to look at little Gunter’s verse, provides the perfect epitaph for writing that has as it’s only virtue the fact that it perfectly exposes the Left’s creative and moral vacuity:
Other news sources have quoted somewhat different translations, but you get the picture. That isn’t poetry, it is mindless left-wing noodling with occasional line breaks.
I don’t think there was ever actually a time when patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, but isn’t it obvious that leftism is the last refuge not only of scoundrels, but of the untalented, the over the hill, the too scared to be anything but conventional, and the depraved?
Just as a palette cleanser, because I feel pretty dirty right about now:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o’er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent;
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.