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The Death of the Old Mendicant

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

There was a rich old gentleman
Lived on a lonely moor in Switzerland,
And he was very hard to the wandering poor,
'Tis said he never lodged nor served them at his door.

'Twas on a stormy night, and Boreas blew a bitter blast,
And the snowflakes they fell thick and fast,
When a poor old mendicant, tired and footsore,
Who had travelled that day fifteen miles and more,
Knocked loudly at the rich man's door.

The rich man was in his parlour counting his gold,
And he ran to the door to see who was so bold,
And there he saw the mendicant shivering with the cold.

Then the mendicant unto him said,
My dear sir, be not afraid,
Pray give me lodgings for the night,
And heaven will your love requite;
Have pity on me, for I am tired and footsore,
I have travelled fifteen miles to-day and more.

Begone! you vagabond, from my door!
I never give lodgings to the poor;
So be off, take to your heels and run,
Or else I'll shoot you with my gun!
Now do not think I'm making fun;
Do you hear, old beggar, what I say?
Now be quick! and go away.

Have mercy, sir, I cannot go,
For I shall perish in the snow;
Oh! for heaven's sake, be not so hard
And God will your love reward.

My limbs are tired, I cannot go away,
Oh! be so kind as let me stay.
'Twas vain! the rich man said, I shan't,
And shut his door on the mendicant,
And said, That is the way I'll serve the poor
While I live on this lonely moor.

Then the old mendicant did go away,
And, murmuring to himself, did say,
Oh, woe's me that ever I was born!
Oh, God, protect me from the storm!
My feeble limbs refuse to go,
And my poor heart does break with woe.
Then he lay down and died among the snow.

He was found by the rich man's shepherd next day,
While he was searching for sheep that had gone astray;
And he was struck with fear and woe
To see the body lying dead among the snow.

So the shepherd ran home and told his master
About the very sad disaster;
That he had found a dead body in the snow,
But whose it was he did not know.

Then the rich man ordered the body to be brought to his house
And to be instantly dressed by his loving spouse,
For his conscience smote him with fear and woe,
When he heard of the old mendicant being found dead in the snow.

So the poor old mendicant was buried without delay
In a very respectable way,
And from that very day the rich man was kind to the poor
And never turned any one away from his door.

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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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    "The Death of the Old Mendicant" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 16 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41896/the-death-of-the-old-mendicant>.

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