Sunday 15 August 2010

The Most Quoted Lines of Poetry: Now With Added Graphs!

This post originally went up back in February, but it deserves another outing because the Antipodean has very kindly gone through and added some explanatory graphs, which are now attached at the bottom.

The idea of the post is simple. When you type a phrase into Google, Google tells you how many hits that phrase gets on the Internet, or how many pages contained that exact line. 

It should be stated before we begin that Google is, for a computer program, often strangely illogical and inconsistent, but it's the best we've got. The number of hits is listed after the line. Click on the author's name for the full poem. 

Counting down from number fifty...

50. The mind is its own place, and in itself/[Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n] 403,000 Milton
49. Full fathom five thy father lies 438,000 Shakespeare
48. If you can keep your head when all about you 447,000Kipling
47. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways 467,000Elizabeth Barrett Browning
46. If music be the food of love, play on 507,000 Shakespeare 
45. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers 521,000Shakespeare
44. What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare 528,000 W.H. Davies
43. The moving finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on571,000 Edward Fitzgerald
42. They also serve who only stand and wait 584,000 Milton
41. The quality of mercy is not strained 589,000 Shakespeare
40. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 594,000 Coleridge
39. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears 615,000Shakespeare
38. Shall I compare thee to a summers day 638,000 Shakespeare
37. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness 641,000 Keats
36. A thing of beauty is a joy forever 649,000 Keats
35. Do not go gentle into that good night 665,000 Dylan Thomas
34. Busy old fool, unruly sun 675,000 John Donne
33. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone 741,000 Auden
32. Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality 891,000 T.S. Eliot
31. O Romeo, Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo 912,000Shakespeare
30. The lady doth protest too much, methinks 929,000Shakespeare
29. The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est 990,000 Wilfred Owen
28. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose 1,050,000 Gertrude Stein
27. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple 1,060,000Jenny Joseph
26. I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree. 1,080,000 Joyce Kilmer
25. Hope springs eternal in the human breast 1,080,000 Alexander Pope
24. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes 1,100,000Shakespeare
23. I grow old... I grow old.../I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled 1,140,000 T.S. Eliot
22. 'The time has come', the Walrus said,/'To talk of many things'1,300,000 Lewis Carroll
21. A narrow fellow in the grass 1,310,000 Emily Dickinson
20. Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all 1,470,000 Keats
19. To be or not to be: that is the question 1,640,000 Shakespeare
18. In Flanders fields the poppies blow 1,640,000 John McCrae
17. The proper study of mankind is man 1,770,000 Alexander Pope
16. A little learning is a dangerous thing 1,860,000 Alexander Pope
15. But at my back I always hear 2,010,000 Marvell
14. Candy/Is dandy/But liquor/Is quicker 2,150,000 Ogden Nash
13. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun 2,230,000Shakespeare
12. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold 2,330,000W.B.Yeats
11. Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me 2,360,000 Emily Dickinson
10. Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all 2,400,000 Tennyson
9. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair 3,080,000 Shelley
8. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield 3,140,000 Tennyson
7. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams 4,860,000 W.B. Yeats 
6. Not with a bang but a whimper 5,280,000 T.S. Eliot
5. And miles to go before I sleep 5,350,000 Robert Frost
4. I wandered lonely as a cloud 8,000,000 Wordsworth
3. The child is father of the man 9,420,000 Wordsworth
2. I am the master of my fate 14,700,000 William Ernest Henley
1. To err is human; to forgive, divine 14,800,000 Alexander Pope

Shakespeare doesn't make the top ten and Gertrude Stein is more quoted than Byron. Bet you didn't see that coming.

And many, many thanks to the Antipodean for these (click to enlarge):

Our rules were that:
1) it had to be a 
whole line of poetry (minimum 8 syllables) that
2) hadn't become famous as a title (e.g. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind)
3) or as a song (e.g. And did those feet in ancient time)
4) or is pretty exclusively for children (e.g. I do not like green eggs and ham).
5) The phrases were googled in "inverted commas", which gives you only pages with the precise phrase.
6) No more than one line per medium sized poem.
Originally I didn't allow tetrameters, or at least required a couplet, however "The child is father of the man" changed our minds as it's the second place on its own and nowhere when linked with the adjacent lines. These rules have been broken a few times at our discretion.
P.S. Google is sometimes eccentric on the number of hits, which can vary by clicking refresh. This is because it keeps adjusting to deal with spam and people trying to fool Google in to high rankings for their page. So sometimes it does odd things with line-breaks or even gives more results when there are more words in the search, which is utterly illogical. They also seem to vary slightly by country. Robert Frost's lines dipped slightly (or I noted them down incorrectly). The final arbiter has to be what pops up on my screen when I try the line in inverted commas.


  1. There once was a man from Nantucket: 123 000

  2. The Antipodean, who heard someone talking about 'untangling a web of deceit' on the radio this morning,16 August 2010 at 05:49

    "Oh! what a tangled web we weave" gets 289,000, but the full quote only gets 19,400.

    That quote also gets misattributed to Shakespeare and various other people. Shakespeare would certainly well and truly top any graph of 'given credit for other people's lines,' although since he has 11 of the top 50, they're pretty good odds if you need to guess.

  3. The graphs say "Frequency in 000's". Please correct this.

  4. Fascinating! Do you ever look up what search terms have brought people to Inkyfool, by the way?
    p.s. Gordon Campbell's right - did you factor in the man from Nantucket... just out of interest?

  5. Yes. My absolute favourite was the chap who came here after searching for "inky sex". I haven't been able to look at a fountain pen the same way since.

  6. Two people found me by searching for 'zombie womble' - the words were in separate posts, but there's definitely some mileage in that!