This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Saturday Rave: The Miraculous Escape of Robert Allan, The Fireman by William Topaz McGonagall.

I've been thinking about poetry about fire. The subject has been tackled by Frost, Homer, Chesterton, Blake, Milton...let's face it, a poet could hardly avoid the subject of fire, beautiful and necessary and dangerous as it is.

William Topaz McGonagall...actually, should I be calling him a poet? Well, there's no doubt he was an original, anyway. There's no doubt, too, that his...verse, I suppose...continues to be a source of joy more than a century after his death.

Here's the beginning of his account of one particular fire. Whatever you think of it, you can't deny McGonnagall's clarity and precision.

'Twas in the year of 1858, and on October the fourteenth day,
That a fire broke out in a warehouse, and for hours blazed away;
And the warehouse, now destroyed, was occupied by Messrs R. Wylie, Hill & Co.,
Situated in Buchanan Street, in the City of Glasgow.

There's no lack of story-telling, either. Here's a bit from further on:

Then the roof fell in, pushing out the front wall,
And the loud crash thereof frightened the spectators one and all
Because it shook the neighbouring buildings to their foundation,
And caused throughout the city a great sensation.

And then at last here comes the protagonist Robert Allan:

He travelled to the fire in Buchanan Street,
On the first machine that was ordered, very fleet.
Along with Charles Smith and Dan. Ritchie,
And proceeded to Brown & Smith's buildings that were burning furiously.

Who proceeds to stand as bravely against the foe as Horatius at the bridge:

And in the third floor of the building he took his stand
Most manfully, without fear, with the hose in his hand,
And played on the fire through the window in the gable
With all his might, the hero, as long as he was able.

Okay, okay, I know. It's...different. But I hope I've shown that there are fine and valuable things about McGonagall's doggerel: I mean, you can tell what's going on, and it tells a proper story. 

Oh, and it still makes us laugh.

Word To Use Today: doggerel. This word meant worthless in the 1300s, and perhaps came from the word dogge, which meant dog.

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