Two nights ago, on March 19, 2011, at the University of Dundee, two overlooked bad poems by William Topaz McGonagall were given their first public reading in over a century, and perhaps ever. [Click here for event details.] The second of those poems, “Hawthornden”, was recited by Professor Chris McManus of University College London. Here is the text:
In all fair Scotland there’s no spot within my ken,
Like the bonnie classic shades of Hawthornden,
Which is a very sweet and solitary seat,
And would suit a poet well for a calm retreat.
The House of Hawthornden is magnificent to see,
Situated on the edge of a precipitous cliff towering majestically,
And at the base the river Esk doth smoothly run,
Shaded by the copsewood and shrubbery from the sun.
And on the south side of the house there’s an old tower,
Likewise the Cypress Grove, where the poet Drummond spent many an hour,
While composing the Poem called Cypress Grove,
A seat in the adjacent rock which the Poet did love.
The caves underneath the house are attractive to see,
And will help to excite the visitor to a degree,
Because they are less rude than other river-side caves in Scotland,
They were used by our savage ancestors, whom together there did band.
And no doubt they have given shelter to many a refugee,
Thankful for a secluded spot to lie in security,
For a time at least, from the pursuit of their enemies,
Who had hunted them o’er hill and dale, their wicked hearts to please.
That was in the reign of David the Second, a long time ago,
When the people in Scotland were hunted to and fro:
But, thank God! We live in a more peaceable age,
And the thought does our trials and troubles assuage.
BONUS: The morning following the reading, some of the audience re-gathered, this time at the Dundee train station, boarded the 11:02 train south, and as the train slowly crossed the Tay Bridge, they together read aloud McGonagall’s best-known poem, “The Tay Bridge Disaster”. Click here for details of that event.