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The Great Yellow River Inundation in China

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

'Twas in the year of 1887, and on the 28th of September,
Which many people of Honan, in China, will long remember;
Especially those that survived the mighty deluge,
That fled to the mountains, and tops of trees, for refuge.

The river burst its embankments suddenly at dead of night,
And the rushing torrent swept all before it left and right;
All over the province of Honan, which for its fertility,
Is commonly called by historians, the garden of China.

The river was at its fullest when the embankment gave way,
And when the people heard it, oh! horror and dismay;
'Twas then fathers and mothers leaped from their beds without delay,
And some saved themselves from being drowned, but thousands were swept away.

Oh! it was a horrible and most pitiful scene,
To hear fathers and mothers and their children loudly scream;
As the merciless water encircled they bodies around,
While the water spirits laughed to see them drowned.

Oh! heaven, it must have been an appalling sight,
To witness in the dead stillness of the night
Frantic fathers and mothers, struggling hard against the roaring flood,
To save themselves and little ones, their own. flesh and blood.

The watchmen tried to patch the breach, but it was all in vain,
Because the banks were sodden with the long prolonged rain;
And driven along by a high wind, which brought the last strain,
Which caused the water with resistless fury to spread o'er the plain.

And the torrent poured into the valley of the La Chia river,
Sweeping thousands of the people before it ere a helping hand could them deliver;
Oh! it was horrible to hear the crashing of houses fallen on every side,
As the flood of rushing waters spread far and wide.

The Chinese offer sacrifices to the water spirits twice a year,
And whether the water spirits or God felt angry I will not aver;
But perhaps God has considered such sacrifices a sin,
And has drowned so many thousands of them for not worshipping Him.

How wonderful are the works of God,
At times among His people abroad;
Therefore, let us be careful of what we do or say,
For fear God doth suddenly take our lives away.

The province of Honan is about half the size of Scotland,
Dotted over with about 3000 villages, most grand;
And inhabited by millions of people of every degree,
And these villages, and people were transformed into a raging sea.

The deluge swept on over the fertile and well-cultivated land,
And the rushing of the mighty torrent no power could withstand;
And the appalling torrent was about twenty feet deep,
And with resistless fury everything before it it did sweep.

Methinks I see the waste of surging waters, and hear its deafening roar,
And on its surface I see corpses of men and women by the score;
And the merciless torrent in the darkness of the night,
Sportively tossing them about, oh! what a horrible sight.

Besides there were buffaloes and oxen, timber, straw, and grain,
Also three thousand villages were buried beneath the waters of the plain;
And multitudes beneath their own roofs have found a watery grave,
While struggling hard, no doubt, poor souls their lives to save.

Therefore good people at home or abroad,
Be advised by me and trust more in God,
Than the people of Honan, the benighted Chinese,
For fear God punished you likewise for your iniquities.

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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 Great Yellow River Inundation in China" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 12 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41912/the-great-yellow-river-inundation-in-china>.

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