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The Nithsdale Widow and Her Son

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

'Twas in the year of 1746, on a fine summer afternoon,
When trees and flowers were in full bloom,
That widow Riddel sat knitting stockings on a little rustic seat,
Which her only son had made for her, which was very neat.

The cottage she lived in was in the wilds of Nithsdale,
Where many a poor soul had cause to bewail
The loss of their shealings, that were burned to the ground,
By a party of fierce British dragoons that chanced to come round.

While widow Riddel sat in her garden she heard an unusual sound,
And near by was her son putting some seeds into the ground,
And as she happened to look down into the little strath below
She espied a party of dragoons coming towards her very slow.

And hearing of the cruelties committed by them, she shook with fear.
And she cried to her son, "Jamie, thae sodgers are coming here!"
While the poor old widow's heart with fear was panting,
And she cried, "Mercy on us, Jamie, what can they be wanting?"

Next minute the dragoons were in front of the cottage door,
When one of them dismounted, and loudly did roar,
"Is there any rebels, old woman, skulking hereabouts?"
"Oh, no, Sir, no! believe my word without any doubts."

"Well, so much the better, my good woman, for you and them;
But, old girl, let's have something to eat, me, and my men":
"Blithely, sir, blithely! ye're welcome to what I hae,"
When she bustled into the cottage without delay.

And she brought out oaten cakes, sweet milk, and cheese,
Which the soldiers devoured greedily at their ease,
And of which they made a hearty meal,
But, for such kind treatment, ungrateful they did feel.

Then one of the soldiers asked her how she got her living:
She replied, "God unto her was always giving;
And wi' the bit garden, alang wi' the bit coo,
And wi' what the laddie can earn we are sincerely thankfu'."

To this pitiful detail of her circumstances the villain made no reply,
But drew a pistol from his holster, and cried, "Your cow must die!"
Then riding up to the poor cow, discharged it through her head,
When the innocent animal instantly fell down dead.

Not satisfied with this the merciless ruffian leaped the little garden wall,
And with his horse trod down everything, the poor widow's all,
Then having finished this barbarous act of direst cruelty,
The monster rejoined his comrades shouting right merrily:

"There, you old devil, that's what you really deserve,
For you and your rascally rebels ought to starve";
Then the party rode off, laughing at the mischief that was done,
Leaving the poor widow to mourn and her only son.

When the widow found herself deprived of her all,
She wrung her hands in despair, and on God did call,
Then rushed into the cottage and flung herself on her bed,
And, with sorrow, in a few days she was dead.

And, during her illness, her poor boy never left her bedside,
There he remained, night and day, his mother's wants to provide,
And make her forget the misfortunes that had befallen them,
All through that villainous and hard-hearted party of men.

On the fourth day her son followed her remains to the grave.
And during the burial service he most manfully did behave,
And when the body was laid in the grave, from tears he could not refrain,
But instantly fled from that desolated place, and never returned again.

Thirteen years after this the famous battle of Minden was fought
By Prince Ferdinand against the French, who brought them to nought;
And there was a large body of British horse, under Lord George Sackville,
And strange! the widow's son was at the battle all the while.

And on the evening after the battle there were assembled in a tavern
A party of British dragoons, loudly boasting and swearing,
When one of them swore he had done more than any of them--
A much more meritorious action-- which he defied them to condemn .

"What was that, Tam, what was that, Tam?" shouted his companions at once.
"Tell us, Tam; tell us, Tam, was that while in France?"
"No!" he cried, "it was starving an old witch, while in Nithsdale,
By shooting her cow and riding down her greens, that is the tale."

"And don't you repent it?" exclaimed a young soldier, present.
"Repent what?" cried the braggart; "No! I feel quite content."
"Then, villain!" cried the youth, unsheathing his sword,
"That woman was my mother, so not another word!

"So draw, and defend yourself, without more delay, Rate this poem:(4.00 / 1 vote)
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:55 min read

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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