Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Pope is Dead

Alexander Pope is, as this blog has established, the most quoted English poet. He died 266 years ago today and two people wrote poems on the subject. Here they are:

On the Death of Mr. Pope

Seal up the book, all vision's at an end,
For who durst now to poetry pretend?
Since Pope is dead, it must be sure confessed
The Muse's sacred inspiration's ceased;
And we may only what is writ rehearse:
His works are the apocalypse of verse.

And, as Pope was such a satirist:

Spoken Extempore on the Death of Mr. Pope

Vice now may lift aloft her speckled head,
And front the sun undaunted: Pope is dead!


  1. Milton for the win!

  2. dave from leicester30 May 2012 at 20:11

    My dear Mark,

    I'm surprised that nobody has yet disillusioned you: it's a well-known fact in informed circles that Google lies about its hit count.

    You assert that Pope's line "To err is human; to forgive, divine" is the most quoted line of poetry in the English language. You may well be right; however, the evidence that you use to make this statement is laughably invalid.

    A search for this same line (on today gives me "About 1,030,000 results".

    For a start, this is around 99% lower that the figure of 14,800,000 that you cite in your post of 15 August 2010. Hmm...

    But this discrepancy fades into insignificance in the face of a few minutes of elementary fact-checking.

    It doesn't take long to click through all the actual links found by Google.

    And there aren't anything like 14,800,000 results, or even 1,030,000.

    There are 580.

    And just to show that this is a general problem, here's an analysis of a couple of other "most quoted lines" from your August 2010 post:

    "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan"
    You get (15 Aug 2010): 594,000
    I get (30 May 2012): 206,000
    In fact (clicking through), 560

    "Busy old fool, unruly sun"
    You get (15 Aug 2010): 675,000
    I get (30 May 2012): 74,000
    In fact (clicking through), 600

  3. Dave from Leicester,

    I do believe Mark pointed out the erratic Google results in the original post and implied it was only an approximation and stating that the number of results go up and down constantly.

    The reason for this is that Google is actually 10s of thousands of web servers which are synchronised imperfectly. Each time you request a new search you can't be sure that you are getting the same server due to 'load balancing'.

    Moreover Google is constantly changing its search algorithm to remove spamming websites.

    I would have been amazed after so much time if the results had been anywhere near the same. That would mean that Google was losing the spam war.

    Now if spamming websites are quoting poetry it can be assumed that they are spamming in proportion to the number of search queries that have been submitted for the lines from said poems. That is what web spammers generally do by writing programs to analyse search terms submitted to Google and generate similar web page content to entice web surfers using those terms.

    Now if people are searching for these terms then the spam would increase in proportion to the number of times searched which we could say is an indication of popularity. Thereby cancelling out It's own effect.

    All in all I think it turns out to be rough but effective method for creating such a list for our entertainment. Mark did indicate that it was intact.

    Perhaps you could suggest an alternative approach.

    I find it hard to understand why you spent so much time checking Mark's results when there is such fine Summer Ale to enjoy.

    Now if you'll excuse I'm off to the tavern.

    The Inky Fool IT Department

    1. Intact should be inexact. I wrote that on my phone and constantly fighting autocorrect.

    2. At the risk of talking to myself I was bothered by not explaining why you do not get access to all the results Google says it has.

      As the link below explains Google will only let you see a maximum number of links, even if there are millions of results in its index for your search term. See this link:

      Now I really have been neglecting the tavern. More beer! And numerous toasts to the Queen!