The Tay Bridge Disaster is one of the most famous bridge collapses. It inspired a universally reviled (yet nevertheless wildly (in)famous) poem from William McGonagall, "The Tay Bridge Disaster". The poem secured his place in history as "the world's worst poet".

McGonagall's is not the only poem which came out of the disaster. The German poet and novelist Theodor Fontane was also moved to write a poem, translated here as "The Bridge by the Tay". This poem is less well-known. Part of that is probably being written in Germany, in German, as opposed to English in the UK, where the disaster took place.

With my (admittedly limited) search abilities I found an article comparing the two poems:

In spite of the contrast between the respective authors, it is interesting to note some parallels between the poems; the anticipation of seasonal festivities; viewpoints alternating between the occupants of the train and the observers onshore; technological achievements thwarted by malign supernatural agents. Both poems specifically mention that the train came from Edinburgh...
(c) RAILSCOT 2021.

This made me curious whether any comparison of this sort occurred at the time. Is there evidence that the two poems were discussed together when the disaster was still fresh? Or evidence against this happening? I realize that one poem is in German and from Germany, while one is in English from UK - but the tragedy was reported widely, so perhaps the poems were distributed widely and shown alongside each other? Or perhaps they were not. If they were discussed together, I would appreciate some examples/excerpts from that discussion.

Was Fontane's Tay Bridge poem compared to McGonagall's at the time?

  • 1
    The rhyming of "Edinburgh" with "sorrow" made me LOL.
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 8:59


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