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Abbottabad Is Also a Bad, Bad Poem

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Most of us would probably feel a bit awkward living in a town named after ourselves. "I'm John Lundberg from Lundberg town just up the road. It's awesome." And I would feel even more awkward writing a poem about how much I loved Lundberg town.

But such is the legacy of James Abbott, a general in the British Army in India in the mid-19th century, after whom Abbottabad is named (it's unclear, but he may have actually named the town after himself). Abbott was so taken by his town that he wrote a rather long and cloying poem about it -- a poem that has been set in stone on a plaque in the Abbottabad town square.

The Guardian's Stephen Moss thinks Abbott's poem is one of the worst ever written, genuinely wondering if "maybe it was written in Urdu and this is a literal translation by someone for whom English is not their first language." Which is also, by the way, something you do not want to hear in a poetry workshop. How bad is it? I don't know that we need to send the SEALs back in to take it out, but it's bad. See for yourself:

I remember the day when I first came here

And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air


The trees and ground covered with snow

Gave us indeed a brilliant show


To me the place seemed like a dream

And far ran a lonesome stream


The wind hissed as if welcoming us

The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss


And the tiny cuckoo sang it away

A song very melodious and gay


I adored the place from the first sight

And was happy that my coming here was right


And eight good years here passed very soon

And we leave you perhaps on a sunny noon


Oh, Abbottabad, we are leaving you now

To your natural beauty do I bow


Perhaps your wind's sound will never reach my ear

My gift for you is a few sad tears


I bid you farewell with a heavy heart

Never from my mind will your memories thwart.

Abbott's poem does gives us a sense -- a disjointed, arrhythmical sense -- of what Abbottabad is like, with its sweet air, lonesome stream, fussy (fussy?) pines, tiny happy cuckoos, and (oh, look!) terrorists. Speaking of which, poor James Abbott would no doubt be quite shaken to learn about this whole bin Laden mess happening in his idyllic, eponymous little town -- so let's hope the news never reaches his eternally resting ear in whatever region of the afterlife he's named after himself.

The lesson here, I guess, is that when you name a town after yourself, you'd better keep an eye on it. There would be no terrorists in Lundberg town (or fussy pines, for that matter). I can promise you that.

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