The barges down in the river flop.
From the slimy branches the grey drips drop,
As they scraggle black on the thin grey sky,
Where the black cloud rack-hackles drizzle and fly
To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop
On the black scrag piles, where the loose cords plop,
As the raw wind whines in the thin tree-top.
And scudding by
The boatmen call out hoy! and hey!
All is running water and sky,
And my head shrieks — “Stop,”
And my heart shrieks — “Die.”
— from A Tragedy
This, some think, is the worst poem ever written (actually there are another two stanzas, but you get the drift). Certainly it sits ill in the mouth when read aloud, and the words “Flop, plop” seem somehow unequal to the awesome horror of accidental death. But the worst poem ever? Please, Jewel could write worse crap than this before breakfast.
The author of A Tragedy, Theo Marzials, was born on this day in London in 1850, the child of French immigrants. Appropriately enough his poetry sits somewhere between the French Symbolists and the English Pre-Raphaelites, though he was too strange to be enrolled full-time in either school. His only volume of verse, The Gallery of Pigeons and Other Poems, was issued in 1873 and was actually fairly well received. Ford Madox Ford called Marzials “the handsomest, the wittiest, the most brilliant and the most charming of poets”, and even Rossetti had some words of praise for his work, if wreathed in qualifications.
Soon after Marzials dedicated himself to writing and performing songs, with considerable success, though in 1894 his poems were published in The Yellow Book, signalling his acceptance by the Aesthetic movement for which it was more or less the house journal.
In later years Marzials lived in the Devonshire countryside, existing on beetroot and chlorodyne, a heady cocktail of opiates then sold over the counter. Duly inspired, he would sometimes wheel his piano outside so he could sing in the night air. Though his seclusion led most to believe that he had died years earlier, the “flop, plop” of death finally came in 1920.