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A Humble Heroine

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

'Twas at the Seige of Matagarda, during the Peninsular War,
That a Mrs Reston for courage outshone any man there by far;
She was the wife of a Scottish soldier in Matagarda Port,
And to attend to her husband she there did resort.

'Twas in the Spring of the year 1810,
That General Sir Thomas Graham occupied Matagarda with 150 men;
These consisted of a detachment from the Scots Brigade,
And on that occasion they weren't in the least afraid.

And Captain Maclaine of the 94th did the whole of them command,
And the courage the men displayed was really grand;
Because they held Matagarda for fifty-four days,
Against o'erwhelming numbers of the French - therefore they are worthy of praise.

The British were fighting on behalf of Spain,
But if they fought on their behalf they didn't fight in vain;
For they beat them manfully by land and sea,
And from the shores of Spain they were forced to flee.

Because Captain Maclaine set about repairing the old fort,
So as to make it comfortable for his men to resort;
And there he kept his men at work day by day,
Filling sand-bags and stuffing them in the walls without delay.

There was one woman in the fort during those trying dags,
A Mrs Reston, who is worthy of great praise;
She acted like a ministering angel to the soldiers while there,
By helping them to fill sand-bags, it was her constant care.

Mrs Reston behaved as fearlessly as any soldier in the garrison,
And amongst the soldiers golden opinions she won,
For her presence was everywhere amongst the men,
And the service invaluable she rendered to them.

Methinks I see that brave heroine carrying her child,
Whilst the bullets were falling around her, enough to drive her wild;
And bending over it to protect it from danger,
Because to war's alarms it was a stranger.

And while the shells shrieked around, and their fragments did scatter,
She was serving the men at the guns with wine and water;
And while the shot whistled around, her courage wasn't slack,
Because to the soldiers she carried sand-bags on her back.

A little drummer boy was told to fetch water from the well,
But he was afraid because the bullets from the enemy around it fell;
And the Doctor cried to the boy, Why are you standing there?
But Mrs Reston said, Doctor, the bairn is feared, I do declare.

And she said, Give me the pail, laddie, I'll fetch the water,
Not fearing that the shot would her brains scatter;
And without a moment's hesitation she took the pail,
Whilst the shot whirred thick around her, yet her courage didn't fail.

And to see that heroic woman the scene was most grand,
Because as she drew the water a shot cut the rope in her hand;
But she caught the pail with her hand dexterously,
Oh! the scene was imposing end most beautiful to see.

The British fought bravely, as they are always willing to do,
Although their numbers were but few;
So they kept up the cannonading with their artillery,
And stood manfully at their guns against the enemy.

And five times the flagstaff was shot away,
And as often was it replaced without dismay;
And the flag was fastened to an angle of the wall,
And the British resolved to defend it whatever did befall.

So the French were beaten and were glad to run,
And the British for defeating them golden opinions have won
Ah through brave Captain Maclaine and his heroes bold,
Likewise Mrs Reston, whose name should be written in letters of gold.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

All William Topaz McGonagall poems | William Topaz McGonagall Books

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    "A Humble Heroine" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 14 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41760/a-humble-heroine>.

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