The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

A Case of the Wrong Blake : The Poetry Foundation

A Case of the Wrong Blake : Harriet Staff : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.

A Case of the Wrong Blake



The Library Spider sent us this hot tip: apparently a number of schools are teaching a poem written by American author, Nancy Willard, but telling students that the poem was written by William Blake!

How did this happen?

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.

In fact, the poem was written in 1981 by Nancy Willard in her book A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, which won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature!

The Library Spider’s account explains:

[A Visit to William Blake’s Inn] 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… 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?

The error began in 2001 on Oracle Education Foundation’s web site ThinkQuest, a collection of online educational resources designed by students from around the world. A group of students contributed a project called “Poetry as We See It” which defines certain elements of poetry and gives samples to illustrate those concepts. As stated in their introduction, the boys and girls looked for older poems which would no longer be subject to copyright law. Amongst books with works by Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson and Robert Louis Stevenson, the students found Ms Willard’s homage to Blake. But, as attested to on their bibliography and a page of examples (see following images), they thought the poems were actually written by William Blake.

With this mistake now in public view on a site that specifically promotes itself to be visited by other school students and their teachers, one would think within a matter of days or at most months either a reader of Blake or of children’s books would have spotted the fault and called for its correction. Instead, some people began linking to this page as a resource and a few others clearly copied the sources these children had gathered and presented them online as a lesson plan of their own creation. The misattribution began to spread…

There are many other types of web sites reprinting this mistake. These are mostly personal blogs and websites created by individual students and whole classes that have all posted the poem for various reasons. At the time of posting this entry, a reader would merely have to type “two sunflowers” and “blake” into any search engine to receive a lengthy list of such sites. These results will also include a sufficient number of links that correctly mention Ms Willard’s book as the accurate source of the poem, too. Hopefully over a short amount of time, the list of inaccurate sites will decrease sharply as the correct information begins to disseminate across the Internet…

When told of the scope of this misinformation Ms Willard replied, “Blake must be turning over in his grave.”

…In less than ten years a simple, rather innocent and easily fixable error has evolved into school policy and good practice simply due to the blind acceptance of quick and easy “research”. Hopefully it will not take that long to repair.

Blunder, indeed! Read more at The Library Spider and take care with your research!

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

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This entry was posted on June 6, 2013 by in COMMENTARY and tagged , , , , , , .

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