[bey-thos, -thaws, -thohs] noun
(1) An insincere and/or excessively sentimental demonstration of pathos. Adjective: bathetic.
(2) An abrupt and often ludicrous transition in style from the elevated to the ordinary.
"The Tay Bridge Disaster" by William McGonagall
“It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.”
(“Knight of the White Elephant of Burmah” William McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” 1880)
“If it were known … that William McGonagall intended his bathetic doggerel ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ to be a parody of sentimental poetry—i.e. to be deliberately bad and exaggerated—the work might be reassessed as witty and amusing. The argument might be that only when we know what kind of work it is intended to be, can we evaluate.”
(Patricia Waugh, Literary Theory And Criticism: An Oxford Guide. Oxford University Press, 2006)
"I shall never be able to express clearly whence comes this pleasure men take from aridity, but always and everywhere I have seen men attach themselves more stubbornly to barren lands than to any other. Men will die for a calcined, leafless, stony mountain. The nomads will defend to the death their great store of sand as if it were a treasure of gold dust."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars
I read this three times and got a difference experience each time. That is how you know good poetry:
The first time, I thought about “cooking flowers into sentences” through the whole poem.
The second time, I was struck by the physicality of the “skin” and “teeth” lines.
And the third time, I read a message about language and the insufficiency of language.
What a beautiful poem. Thank you Nayyirah!