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William McGonagall (1830?-1902)

The Famous Tay Whale


              1'Twas in the month of December, and in the year 1883,
              2That a monster whale came to Dundee,
              3Resolved for a few days to sport and play,
              4And devour the small fishes in the silvery Tay.

              5So the monster whale did sport and play
              6Among the innocent little fishes in the beautiful Tay,
              7Until he was seen by some men one day,
              8And they resolved to catch him without delay.

              9When it came to be known a whale was seen in the Tay,
            10Some men began to talk and to say,
            11We must try and catch this monster of a whale,
            12So come on, brave boys, and never say fail.

            13Then the people together in crowds did run,
            14Resolved to capture the whale and to have some fun!
            15So small boats were launched on the silvery Tay,
            16While the monster of the deep did sport and play.

            17Oh! it was a most fearful and beautiful sight,
            18To see it lashing the water with its tail all its might,
            19And making the water ascend like a shower of hail,
            20With one lash of its ugly and mighty tail.

            21Then the water did descend on the men in the boats,
            22Which wet their trousers and also their coats;
            23But it only made them the more determined to catch the whale,
            24But the whale shook at them his tail.

            25Then the whale began to puff and to blow,
            26While the men and the boats after him did go,
            27Armed well with harpoons for the fray,
            28Which they fired at him without dismay.

            29And they laughed and grinned just like wild baboons,
            30While they fired at him their sharp harpoons:
            31But when struck with the harpoons he dived below,
            32Which filled his pursuers' hearts with woe:

            33Because they guessed they had lost a prize,
            34Which caused the tears to well up in their eyes;
            35And in that their anticipations were only right,
            36Because he sped on to Stonehaven with all his might:

            37And was first seen by the crew of a Gourdon fishing boat,
            38Which they thought was a big coble upturned afloat;
            39But when they drew near they saw it was a whale,
            40So they resolved to tow it ashore without fail.

            41So they got a rope from each boat tied round his tail,
            42And landed their burden at Stonehaven without fail;
            43And when the people saw it their voices they did raise,
            44Declaring that the brave fishermen deserved great praise.

            45And my opinion is that God sent the whale in time of need,
            46No matter what other people may think or what is their creed;
            47I know fishermen in general are often very poor,
            48And God in His goodness sent it to drive poverty from their door.

            49So Mr John Wood has bought it for two hundred and twenty-six pound,
            50And has brought it to Dundee all safe and all sound;
            51Which measures 40 feet in length from the snout to the tail,
            52So I advise the people far and near to see it without fail.

            53Then hurrah! for the mighty monster whale,
            54Which has got 17 feet 4 inches from tip to tip of a tail!
            55Which can be seen for a sixpence or a shilling,
            56That is to say, if the people all are willing.

Notes

1] The skeleton of this humpback whale is now in the Barrack Street Museum in Dundee. On Nov. 21-22, 1958, at the Hoffnung Interplanetary Music Festival at Royal Festival Hall in London, Dame Edith Evans, accompanied by Annetta Hoffnung on the fog-horn, gave a dramatic recitation of "The Famous Tay Whale" as set to music by Mátyás Seiber. The festival poster sports a drawing of the whale with what looks very like bagpipes spouting from its tail.

29] just: iust (1890).

36] Stonehaven: a fishing village and port north of Tayside and just south of Aberdeen.

37] Gourdon: a harbour town and fishing port just south of Inverbervie, between Tayside and Stonehaven.

38] coble: "A short flat-bottomed rowing-boat used in salmon-fishing and for crossing rivers or lakes" ("coble," 1, OED).

48] to drive: drive (1890).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William McGonagall, Poetic Gems (1890; Trowbridge and Esher: Trowbridge, 1975): 37-38. PR 4970 .M45 P6 1975 St. Michael's College Library
First publication date: 1884
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/12/1*1:2002/12/1

Composition date: 15 January 1884
Composition date note: The date is on an autograph MS at Local Studies Department, Dundee Central Library.
Rhyme: aabb


Other poems by William McGonagall