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Sunday, June 23, 2013

How the internet can "mutate" reality

Fake Blake poem widely disseminated on the 'net

From the BBC

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.

An online search for "Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room" will produce numerous references to this as a poem by William Blake, the radical English writer and artist who died in the 19th Century.

There are essay questions, anthologies, lesson plans, discussion forums, teachers' resources and online reference websites all interpreting this poem as an example of 19th Century poetry.

But Mr Pitchford says that when he saw the poem attributed to William Blake, he immediately thought the style bore little relation to the poet's other work.
He soon established that the poem was really by Nancy Willard and had been published in 1981 in an anthology called A Visit to William Blake's Inn.

But the librarian, who works at Hitchin Boys' School, then realised how far and wide the mistake had travelled, with internet sites copying and distributing the false connection with Blake.

Story by Sean Coughlan

1 comment:

Shayne Parkinson said...

I remember reading an essay by Stephen Jay Gould in the pre-Web days lamenting the way errors were sometimes replicated from one textbook to another. Of course the Web makes it so much easier for this to happen on a larger scale.