A Pakistan army soldier stands on top of the house where it is believed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad. Photograph: Anjum Naveed/AP
There is some argument over whether General Sir James Abbott founded Abbottabad. Herbert Edwardes, another soldier and administrator in the Punjab, has his claims. But it was Abbott who managed to put his name to the place, and he really should have left it at that. The encomium he composed when he left the hilltown he loved must be one of the worst poems ever written.
Perhaps Abbottabad, as Abbott rather unenterprisingly called the poem, sounds better in Urdu. I haven't been able to locate a copy in that language, though there is said to be a translation and it surely can't be any worse than the English version. Or maybe it was written in Urdu and this is a literal translation by someone for whom English is not their first language. The oddly garbled line "And we leave our perhaps on a sunny noon" suggests that may be the case.
William McGonagall was a contemporary of Abbott, and evidently an influence. "The trees and ground covered with snow / Gave us indeed a brilliant show" is pure McGonagall. Indeed, in many respects, Abbott out-McGonagalls the master. The Tay Bridge Disaster reads like Homer after Abbottabad.
Abbott's poem is notable chiefly for its non-sequiturs. "To me the place seemed like a dream/ And far ran a lonesome stream." It takes genius to produce a couplet in which the second line bears no relation to the first. One begins to suspect satirical intent – or perhaps brain damage. "The wind hissed as if welcoming us / The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss" … "And the tiny cuckoo sang it away." WTF? as William Empson might have said. And does that final word "thwart" make any grammatical sense?
Abbott left his beloved Abbottabad in 1853. He eventually retired to the Isle of Wight, and does not seem to have written another line. Thank God. He married late in life, and it is possible his wife and young son distracted him. Their service to English literature is incalculable.
• Stephen Moss stood for the Oxford professorship of poetry last year. He came eighth (out of 11), but feels he might have won under an AV (alliterative verse) system.