Kristen Stewart may have been criticised for writing a bad poem, but Wordsworth and Shakespeare got away with far worse
Poor Kristen Stewart. Last week she allowed Marie Claire to publish a poem she’d written. It didn’t go down well. Newspapers, critics and Twitter users fell over themselves to condemn it as “the worst poem of all time”, while the ink was still warm.
The evidence? Flagrant thesaurus abuse (“Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps”), self-indulgent line breaks (“this pining erosion is getting dust in / My eyes”) and bits that are just plain, good, old-fashioned nonsense (“I reared digital moonlight”). It is not exactlyShakespeare.
But then, sometimes Shakespeare wasn’t exactly Shakespeare either. In fact, many of our most revered and beloved writers throughout history have let some shockingly bad verse slip below the literary radar, with nary a dent in their reputations to show for it.
But no longer. Enjoy the following poetic stinkers from, supposedly, our “greatest” writers. Laureateships and knighthoods can be returned in the post.
In Much Ado About Nothing, the otherwise very witty Beatrice describes Claudio as “civil as an orange / and something of that jealous complexion.”
My English teacher fought long and hard to convince us that, as “civil” was a pun on “Seville” (where oranges come from) and that orange was “the colour of jealousy” in Shakespeare’s time, this joke was not only ingenious but hilarious.
All I can say is, if Shakespeare is planning to include it in a stand-up set, he shouldn’t open with it.
Andrew Motion wrote enough beautiful poetry to be made poet laureate in 1999, but let the side down in this “rap poem” intended to celebrate Prince William’s 21st birthday in 2003. It was, according to Motion, an attempt to show that the Prince was a “new kind of royal figure”.
Better stand back
Here’s an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.
And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water–never dry
I measured it from side to side:
‘Twas four feet long, and three feet wide.
An extract from The Thorn. Less a poem, more of a rhyming geographical survey. But it’s kind of Wordsworth to remind us that water is “never dry”. EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that “never dry” is referring to the pond and not the water. Friends, I know. But given that Wordsworth has only just told us that the pond is “of water”, does he really need to tell us again that it’s “never dry”? I’m glad we had this talk.
Wordsworth was actually a repeat offender. This poem is called Baffled – Anecdote for fathers:
“Now, little Edward, say why so:
My little Edward, tell me why.” –
“I cannot tell, I do not know.” –
“Why, this is strange,” said I.
I think pretty much everyone is baffled here.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
This piece by Tennyson was part of a poem “sung at the Opening of the International Exhibition”:
Is the goal so far away?
Far, how far no tongue can say,
Let us dream our dream today.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley has a formidable list of greatest hits: To a Skylark, Ode to the West Wind, Ozymandias (which recently inspired an episode of Breaking Bad). But even the title of this shocker – The Sensitive Plant – sounds like a parody of a soppy Romantic poem. The sample stanzas below may not seem so bad on their own, but the poem carries on much in this vein for an exhausting 311 lines.
Broad water-lilies lay tremulously,
And starry river-buds glimmered by,
And around them the soft stream did glide and dance
With a motion of sweet sound and radiance.
And the sinuous paths of lawn and of moss,
Which led through the garden along and across,
Some open at once to the sun and the breeze,
Some lost among bowers of blossoming trees…
Carol Ann Duffy
Duffy has written some highly skilled and hugely popular poems, but the current poet laureate isn’t going to get away with this political doggerel from 2013. Behold a few of her 22 Reasons for the Bedroom Tax:
Because the Badgers are moving the goalposts.
The Ferrets are bending the rules.
The Weasels are taking the hindmost.
The Otters are downing tools…
Even Nobel Prize-winning writers can fall. There are many examples of Pinter’s poetry that suggest, firmly, that he should have stuck to writing for the stage. Sadly, most are too explicit for us to print, but this excerpt from American Football – A Reflection on the Gulf War from 1991 should give you the gist:
Praise the Lord for all good things.
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of f—— dust.
We did it.
Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.
The poem was rejected for publication by the Independent, Observer, Guardian, New York Review of Books and London Review of Books. “It’s interesting the way societies object to what seems to me to be the truth,” Pinter said at the time. “I mean, surely that’s one reason why it worried… people here.” I can think of some other reasons.
By Charlotte Runcie – 21 Feb 2014 – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10651864/The-worst-poems-by-great-writers.html