Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Wednesday, December 28, 2016: just two days before the end of Koynezaa—the holiday celebrating a Jewish boy with the initials JC born at the end of the year.  It’s also National Candy Day, which I’ve already celebrated with a piece of chocolate. Indulge: there must be lots of goodies left over from Christmas! Finally, it’s the third day of Kwanzaa, another weeklong holiday.

On this day in 1836, Spain signed a treaty recognizing the independence of Mexico. And in 1879, the Great Tay Bridge Disaster took place, in which a Scottish bridge collapsed (after a storm) when a train was crossing it, killing everyone aboard: about 75 people. The event was memorialized by perhaps the worst published poet in history, William McGonagall (another Scot, 1825-1902), whose great epic, “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” ends with these stirring lines:

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now 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.

If you have a chance, read some of McGonagall’s other poems. To my mind, his only close rival in poetic badness was the American writer Julia A. Moore, whose masterpiece, “Little Libbie,” never fails to bring me to tears of mirth in its last four stanzas.  On this day in 1895, the commercial cinema made its debut when The Lumière brothers showed a film in Paris to a paying audience. And, in 1973, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Notables born on this day include Woodrow Wilson (1856), Arthur Eddington (1882), John von Neumann (1903), Stan Lee (1922), Kary Mullis (1944), and Denzel Washington (1954). Those who died on this day include Maurice Ravel (1937), Sam Peckinpah (1984), Clayton Moore (“The Lone Ranger’; 1999), and Susan Sontag (2004). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the beasts are being visited by Marta, the daughter of Elzbieta (and stepfather The Other Andrzej), who are in turn the staff of Leon. Hili and Cyrus vie for Marta’s attention:


Hili: Pushing your head for patting when I’m being patted is illegal.
Cyrus: Kiss my nose.
In Polish:
Hili: Podsuwanie twojego łba, kiedy ja jestem głaskana jest nielegalne.
Cyrus: Pocałuj psa w nos.
Lagnaiappe: reader jsp sends a Pearls Before Swine Comic by Stephan Pastis; this one is Google versus God:



  1. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    McGonagall is a perverse favourite of mine. He had grasped just one factoid about poetry – that the last word of each line should rhyme. And that he applied faithfully.

    Nothing about metre, nothing about scansion. One has to wonder whether he could ever comprehend blank verse.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      P.S. He was probably wrong about buttresses, too. The whole design was generally inadequate, and a lot of the detailing and maintenance was suspect. The proportions of the replacement bridge – which is still there – were not substantially different from the old, just much more substantial.

      The locomotive of the train, no 224, which was significantly better built than the bridge was, was fished out of the Tay and gave many years good service but it nobody would take it over the new bridge – until the 29th anniversary of the disaster.


  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I hope that Libby isn’t truly about a child dying. In that case, if that’s what she had to write then I’m not going to judge… “a piece of beef”… hoo boy.

    • Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s what it’s about.

    • Taz
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      This is the poem Mark Twain was mocking in Huckleberry Finn with “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots”.

  3. allison
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    McGonagall’s snooty advice for future engineers is my favorite part of that splendid poem.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I believe pearls before swine has become thee comic strip. Bring on the rat, the goat and pig.

  5. thompjs
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Google is God

  6. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    The Tay Bridge disaster plays a pivotal plot role in a popular mystery novel I’ve read recently, but I’m blanking on which one.

    Wikipedia to the rescue: it’s Barbara Vine’s The Blood Doctor (one of her best, in my opinion).

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    My goodness.
    Two poets significantly worse than Joyce “Trees” Kilmer. “Trees” has been widely parodied but “Libbie” may be beyond satiribility (is that a word??).
    “Libbie” and “Tay Bridge” make the poetry of Edward Bulwyr-Litton look like Shakespeare.
    (Compare )


    You can hide your dirty Internet searches from having a permanent trace (on your computer anyway) with anonymous browsing. I wonder if some TV preachers have tried something like this with God.

    One of Palo Alto’s weirder churches does indeed have a sign out front saying Google cannot satisfy every search.

  8. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I leap to defend McGonagall, whose supreme awfulness in poetic composition far surpasses ‘Little Libbie’. The author of the latter had obviously heard of meter, scansion and rhyme scheme. McGonagall was evidently entirely ignorant of the first two and his comprehension of the third was, apparently, limited to the idea that ‘last words should rhyme’, with the result that he continued until he came to a matching rhyme, at which point he went on to the next line.


  9. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Is McGonagall’s poetry worse than that of Vogons?

    “Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
    Thy micturations are to me,
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits,
    On a lurgid bee”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      Bear in mind that Doug Adams was deliberately trying to write appalling poetry. Whereas McGonagall was not, so far as we know.

      I suppose one could most nearly compare Vogon poetry to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky –
      ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
      All mimsy were the borogoves
      And the mome raths outgrabe’

      (But note that Carroll’s effort scans and rhymes consistently, so cannot be compared with McGonagall)


  10. bric
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    I’m just leaving this here . . .

  11. Bob
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The only poem I ever understood was by Ogden Nash.

    Candy is dandy,
    But liquor is quicker.

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