School librarian puts the world straight on fake William Blake poem

Misattribution of verse started by students on internet is finally corrected by blogger

For years, thousands of children throughout the world have been studying a poem about sunflowers believing it to be the work of the 19th-century poet William Blake.

Reading lists have included it for study, websites have included it in lesson plans and four US state school boards have recommended it to students. There is even anecdotal evidence of one of Britain’s Ofsted inspectors accepting “the fact” of Blake’s authorship of the poem when it was presented to her by a group of young students via a project on their display board.

Now though, after a 12-year misunderstanding which illustrates how effectively the internet can spread misinformation, the record could finally be put straight thanks to the diligence of a Hertfordshire librarian and blogger.

Thomas Pitchford, aka “The Library Spider”, has verified that the poem – “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room” – was written by a 1980s US poet, Nancy Willard, and published in an anthology of hers dedicated to Blake’s work, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn.

Mr Pitchford, who was modestly refusing to answer any queries at his school, Hitchin School for Boys, wrote on his blog: “Teachers searching the internet for examples of poetry to use in their instruction are finding [the] poem. A great number of the suggested websites claim the poem was written by William Blake.”

The error, he says, began in 2001 on the website Think Quest set up by the Oracle Education Foundation and including a collection of online educational resources designed by students around the world.

A group of students were looking for poems for a project to post on the website and were searching for old poems which were not subject to copyright law – and 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,” Mr Pitchford wrote on his blog.

“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,” he explained. In his own survey of primary schools in three UK counties, he discovered around one in four was using it as a poem attributed to Blake.

The Blake Society was also aware of the mistake, and has been trying to rectify the error. “I am not quite sure just how this confusion spread but it has grown considerably on [the] internet – which is to be expected unfortunately,” said its secretary Adriana Diaz-Enciso.

Mr Pitchford, though, is optimistic that his blog will help bring the saga to an end. “In less than 10 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’,” he said. “Hopefully it will not take that long to repair.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003