Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Fifty Most Quoted Lines of Poetry

This post has already gone up twice; but, as it's the one on which I worked hardest, and as this blog is always gaining and losing adherents, I see no reason not to wheel it out for a third time. As the Bellman remarked, "What I tell you three times is true".

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 
 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.

P.P.S. Because of the demands of work, I shall not be able to leap upon corrections, suggestions and amendments with my usual predatory alacrity. These were measured back in February 2010 and may have changed. My attitude to such ructions and revolutions will be, I am afraid, utterly idle. I refer complainers to the Bellman.

File:Alexander Pope circa 1736.jpeg
The winner.


  1. definitely worth posting again. thanks :)

  2. If you can break the 'whole line' rule for "The child is father of the man, it seems reasonable to break it for "April is the cruellest month" -- 447,000 hits in inverted commas;

    Then there's "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" - 715,000 hits;

    "Now is the winter of our discontent" has 466,000 hits;

    "oh i have slipped the surly bonds of earth" gets over 570,000 hits;

    "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" gets 640,000 hits;

    "Never give all the heart" gets 521,000;

    "The lone and level sands stretch far away" gets 630,000;

    "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" gets 891,000;

    "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last" gets 406,000;

    And that's just the ones that come immediately to mind. Are you sure you've looked at a wide variety of poetry quotes?

  3. Not an ounce of ee cummings *sobs*

  4. Not to mention "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" which gets 5,290,000.

  5. The original post, with a little more commentary on the sources and some discussion in the comments on what should be in and out can be found here:

  6. Are you sure about quote 43. The moving finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on571,000 Edward Fitzgerald?

    I find the exact same phrase in Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, the whole quote being:

    "The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

    Khayyam lived some 700 years before Fitzgerald, so...

    1. Fizgerald is known as the main translator of the Rubaiyat which is where the confusion arises.

  7. Awww, no 'Plums'?

    1. The phrase "This is just to say" gives me 11,500,000 hits, and all of at least the first couple of pages are about the poem, although they're not all quotes of the poem. Unfortunately, that's such a common phrase that it's likely to occur in a lot of unrelated contexts.

    2. The phrase "This is just to say" gives me 11,500,000 hits, and all of at least the first couple of pages are about the poem, although they're not all quotes of the poem. Unfortunately, that's such a common phrase that it's likely to occur in a lot of unrelated contexts.

  8. Almost none of the Shakespeare lines you are quoting are in fact poetry. Just for the record.

  9. Tazio, Edward FitzGerald translated Omar Khayyam's 'Rubaiyat' into English, and is known to have added to the original and changed it a great deal: the general rule now is to cite Fitzgerald as author in relation to his own version, since while Khayyam was his starting point, Fitzgerald remade the 'Rubaiyat' - other versions, credited to Khayyam, now exist in abundance, and don't feature the phrases that appear in Fitzgerald.

  10. Not only is Fitzgerald the most known translator of Khayyam, his translation (which is the one you quote) is as much an entire rewrite, as it is translation.

    He did a great deal of restructuring, and even some complete creation of some quatrains to make the arc fit his desired shape.

  11. Looks to me like the Shakespeare lines are poetry, Other Anonymous. In the plays, main characters speak in blank verse. Only the peons speak in prose. All of the quotations from plays are from major speeches.

  12. As You Like It?

    With about 1,670,000 results:

    "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players"

    Appears to be quite popular despite the inference that we are all a bunch of luvvies.
    mwah! mwah!

  13. We are such stuff as dreams are made on
    (The Tempest)

    How happy some o'er others some can be
    (Midsummer Night's Dream)

    o let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings
    (Richard II)

    if music be the food of love play on
    (Twelfth Night)

    [Sorry. Apparently, I NEED the Bard to make a better showing on this list.]

  14. I am intrigued that "Through caverns measureless to man" gets 1,500,000 hits where "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan" currently gets 390,000.

    "And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!" 3,960,000, while the first line still only gets 843,000 despite our searches.

  15. I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.. (Eliot) It looks to me that it has enough hits to enter the list????

  16. I mean, higher up...

  17. I think your methodology is fundamentally flawed, I'm afraid. As long as there are more than 1000 actual results, Google's estimated number of hits is based only on the words contained in the phrase you are searching for and is known to be very unreliable for multi-word queries:

  18. Noting Jules' comment, a moderately independent methodology would be to use Google Ngram. At least there one knows that only the exact phrase will turn up. Also one can note historical changes. Unfortunately, the complete line requirement is not directly implementable because the dataset only contains up to "5-grams". A second distinction is that the corpus contains only published books, a rather different sample, of popularity with the sort of people who write books, instead of the broad popularity that is measured by your search (as it is in principle, rather than as it is in actuality, as noted by Jules).

  19. Hmmm, too bad we can't analyze what poems are quoted in common speech. How about on sitcoms?

  20. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 2.5 million & I bet it's actually quoted in speech more than any of the googled lines.

  21. Hmmm, too bad we can't analyze what poems are quoted in common speech. How about on sitcoms?

  22. 13,400,000 for "Roses are red, violets are blue" in quotes, putting it tidily in third place.

  23. Seriously?
    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)

    Beach Boys - Child is the father of the man

  24. I struggle with your parameters, because

    1) It has to be a poem you are aware of so that they can all be entered individually.

    2) To rule out the possibility of it becoming famous through another medium, you have to be aware of all instances of its being used in another medium. Forgive me for finding you fallible, but #27 is the name of a popular and oft-gifted book. From its Amazon reviews:

    "Millions of women have taken its message to heart: it's OK to grow older; in fact it's terrific! "You're not getting older, just a little more purple." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

  25. Isn't it great that all the real poets wrote in English!

    si cada día sube
    una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
    ay amor mío, ay mía,
    en mí todo ese fuego se repite...

  26. Wot!!! No Jabberwocky?
    "Twas brillig and the slithy toves"
    About 583,000 results (0.23 seconds)

    No Edward Lear?
    "the owl and the pussycat"
    About 1,900,000 results (0.22 seconds)

    Did you have a childhood?

    I also suspect your results are being tainted by "local" Google results (UK/USA) as I (in the UK) have put a few lines into Google and I am getting +75% approx. greater hits than your results.

    I'm sorry but I really feel that you need a better qualification system.


  27. The research system is unreliable as, if you enter one line, say: "I think that I shall never see" you get 367,000,000 hits, whereas, just by adding "A poem lovely as a tree" by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, you get 16,200,000, but if you replace poem with "billboard", Ogden Nash, you'll still get 1,360,000. I haven't gone too far into the precise nature of the quotations but with the case of the first example only the first ten pages pertain to the Joyce Kilmer poem. It's an interesting exercise and, as the posts here show, very thought provoking!

  28. To see a world in a grain of sand--Blake
    1,920,000 hits. I'd say that makes the list, almost top 10.

  29. "There are greater things in heaven and earth" - 62,500,000. bam!

  30. Disputations! Protestations! Avaunt, alack, alas! I blather. Do you know, one of my personal favourites is oft-quoted by the reverable (not a word?) P.G. Wodehouse in his brilliant comic novels: something something in or with "wild surmise/silent upon a peak in Darien" referring to Cortez when first he spied the Pacific or Atlantic or something. And I can't even be bothered to Google it...

  31. Ah hah! Thank you, Wikipedia. "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats...and it's apparently the Pacific Ocean.

  32. No: 13, "My mistress' eyes" I think might have recieved a boost due to Catherine Tate using it on a comedy gala show...

  33. One I like:
    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true;
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face. By Yeats 'When you are old'

  34. where is
    "Water, water, every where, / And all the boards did shrink; / Water, water, every where / Nor any drop to drink."

  35. He carried the caduceus, "the winged rod with two serpents intertwined, which has become a symbol of the medical profession" (Poplawski, 75).Poetry

  36. The mother-to-be can include a personal Poems fitting in the unique gift she received from each guest in her shower thank you cards

  37. Hello everyone i Am williams pater and i am from USA i am here to give my testimony about an herbal doctor called Dr,olu I was heartbroken because i had very small penis,not nice to satisfy a woman, i have been in so many relationship, but cut off because of my situation, i have used so many product which doctors prescribe for me, but could not offer me the help i searched for. i saw some few comments on the internet about this specialist called Dr,OLU and decided to email him on his email i saw on the internet,( ) so I decided to give his herbal product a try. i emailed him and he got back to me, he gave me some comforting words with his herbal product for Penis Enlargement, Within three weeks of me use it, i began to feel the enlargement, " and now it just 4 weeks of using his products my penis is about 8 inches longer, and i had to settle thing out with my ex girlfriend , i was surprised when she said that she is satisfied with my performance in bed and i now have a large penis.thanks to DR OLU for is herbal product. you can also reach him with emsil though is..number WHATASPP him today on this number [ +2348140654426 ]

  38. The quote at number 43 is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Edward Fitzgerald translated it from the original Persian. Giving credit to the translator (Fitzgerald) and not the original poet (Omar Khayyam) gives your readers the impression that it wasn't the ability of the poet to compose a masterpiece but the ability of a translator to translate that matters ...only because he knew English