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A New Contender for the Worst Poem in English

by J P Marmaro

I have recently become aware of a poet who is surely a star among poetasters, worthy of shining bright in that firmament which boasts such luminaries as William McGonagall, Edgar Guest, Rod McKuen and Shel Silverstein. His name was Theophile Jules-Henri Marzials, a native Belgian who became a British subject, of the mid-Victorian era. In 1873 he published a collection of poems called The Gallery of Pigeons.  It contains a poem which some critics are saying eclipses even McGonagall’s “The Tay Bridge Disaster”… and it is emphatically and eye-bulgingly awful. Below is the text.

DISCLAIMER: You may need to take some Pepto-Bismol after reading this, and perhaps a Dramamine or two.)

                                        A Tragedy

                           by Theophile Marzials (1873)



The barges down in the river flop.

Flop, plop,

Above, beneath.

From the slimy branches the grey drips drop...

To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop...

And my head shrieks - "Stop"

And my heart shrieks - "Die."...

Ugh! yet I knew - I knew

If a woman is false can a friend be true?

It was only a lie from beginning to end--

My Devil - My "friend."...

So what do I care,

And my head is empty as air -

I can do,

I can dare

(Plop, plop

The barges flop

Drip, drop.)

I can dare, I can dare!

And let myself all run away with my head

And stop.



Plop, flop,




Words fail one... the mind boggles!

It is said Marzials claimed this poem was a contemplation of committing suicide by jumping into the Thames.  (Hmm! The less said, the better.) One thing that can be said is that, for all its putridity, the poem seems actually rather modern, though that might say more (negatively) about modern poetry than (positively) about Marzials.

Personally, Marzials was a great fop, a dandy, rather like a cross between Hercule Poirot and Oscar Wilde, but with neither the genius nor the wit of either.  He thought himself enormously talented and was unabashed in talking about himself, and acting, in rapturous accord with that judgment.