Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fake Blake

We start with this:
A school librarian has discovered that a poem widely attributed to William Blake, including in school reading lists, was not really written by him.
Rather than the work of an English poet in the 19th century, “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room” was written in the United States in the 1980s.
This mislabelling shows how the internet can replicate errors, warns Thomas Pitchford, a librarian in a Hertfordshire secondary school.
“We just accept too quickly,” he says.
True. Which leads us to the Library Spider:
A poem written by a contemporary American author is being taught in schools across the United States and England as the work of one of Britain’s most famous scribes. This innocent verse is escaping the detection of experienced educators because an error exists in a lesson plan circulating many web sites, from loosely monitored forums to highly reputed and authoritative resources including some run by government agencies.
Teachers searching the Internet for examples of poetry to use in their instruction are finding a poem entitled “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room”.  A great number of the suggested web sites claim the poem was written by William Blake.  Rather than being composed around 200 years ago, it was written by the poet Nancy Willard for her 1981 book A Visit to William Blake’s Inn which won America’s highest award for children’s literature, the Newbery Medal.  This book shows Ms Willard’s appreciation for the work of Blake and her poems make many allusions to his verse, in this case “Ah Sunflower, weary of time” from Songs of Innocence and Experience.  Ms Willard’s prowess as an author is easily proven from her large amount of published works, collection of awards and career as a teacher of writing, but attributing any work from the 20th century to one of the best known and most studied poets of two centuries previous is a sizeable blunder.  So, how did it happen?
Read on.

Next, Examples of Personification in Poetry with Analysis uses the poem as a suitable case for analysis:
Want to have something better to say than “I don’t know” next time your teacher calls on you in English class? Learn about personification in poetry with this expert analysis to make yourself look more intelligent.
Personification: “Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,” / said the sunflowers, shining with dew. / “Our traveling habits have tired us. / Can you give us a room with a view?”
Analysis: Sunflowers can’t speak...unless they’re part of a William Blake poem. These two jovial talking sunflowers contribute to the poem’s mood. They seem like jolly good sunflowers, don’t they? British Romantic poets, like William Blake, believed human fulfilment comes from being one with nature and that nature is a living thing. I’ll let you decide whether or not he’s poking fun at this notion in this poem.
I’ll let you decide whether teachers or not teaching this stuff know anything about poetry. Here is the full text of the fake Blake:
Two Sunflowers  Move in the Yellow Room
“Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,” 
said the sunflowers, shining with dew. 
“Our traveling habits have tired us.
 Can you give us a room with a view?”
They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
That is so, like, awesomely like William Blake. Not. Especially the rooting in the carpet.


Stephanie said...

There's a quote about bosses and leaders, and googling it you will find it attributed to Abraham Lincoln. However, it was actually said by Teddy Roosevelt. In my work, I find too many of my colleagues are happy to attribute to Lincoln because Google said so.

My view was 'bosses' was not Lincoln era terminology (although I'm happy to be wrong) so kept looking until Teddy popped up as the author. Once these mistakes get into the public domain, they are hard to eradicate or correct.

Stephen Stratford said...

There are so many posts on Facebook with pictures attached to "meaningful" quotes attributed to Lincoln, Twain, Einstein etc. Most of them American - not too many quotes from English, French, German, Russian, Chinese etc - and almost all bogus. What's odd is that people posting and reposting these things think that if Einstein, a genius in physics, said something not about physics it is gospel. Which is not just unscientific, it is bullshit. Science is totally against the argument from authority, but all those arts graduates fall for it every time.