This is going to sound quite odd but I understand it is not an entirely original phenomenon. I am incorporating poems I have written into a novel. One poem in particular features four lines the origin of which I have always questioned. I am not someone with cognitive issues but I continually feel I read them somewhere before writing them. Sounds crazy I know, but when writing they just simply "appeared" with little effort. Further they use more romantic language than Is native to most of my writing. Are they my words or not? I can't reasonably answer that. I certainly hope so but would be horrified to have "kleptomaniacally" stolen someone else's verse!

I have searched high and low to access these lines, to attribute them to an author, with little luck. Any suggestions?

  • 2
    I can't answer that, but you are not alone. Nowadays we expect everything to be found on the Internet. But there are plenty of copyrighted works that are not in digital form, and even your average literary person wouldn't immediately recognize poetry from anyone but a handful of major poets. – user23046 May 20 '17 at 1:16
  • Posting the actual verses on Literature SE and asking if anyone recognizes them might help. – user16226 May 24 '17 at 11:31

You can always attribute it to "Author Unknown" which, I believe, indicates that you've tried to locate the author and failed.

My other suggestion is to try an actual librarian, possibly at a university library, as they often have accumulated a variety of knowledge beyond us mere mortals.

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    I hate to say this, but... I was sitting in a university library when I wrote my above comment. As for the librarians: Maybe they're more knowledgeable in the back room, but the ones at the front diesk hadn't heard of "The Chicago Manual of Style" (which they had there). – user23046 May 22 '17 at 22:04
  • Oh my. They were better in my day. My other suggestion still stands. – Terri Simon May 23 '17 at 1:55
  • In the various works of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, the librarian at Miskatonic University would always be a reliable source of arcane information. The persons at the desk of my local university libary can show you how to borrow a Chromebook, so you can look it up on Google. Yes, they have books as well, but who reads them? – user23046 May 23 '17 at 2:43

Pursuing the thought provided by @Terri Simon:

Being in a real university library, I noticed that a real librarian was in the back room today. So I had the front staff (students, I guess) direct me to the real librarian. He told me:

There are academic databases that are not accessible to the general public. That is, you need an account to log in. Students can get there via their student IDs. Non-students can sometimes get there, if they show up at the library in person, and have the librarian make the inquiry on a library account.

The databases include a large body of literary works, not just academic publications, many of which will not easily be found (if at all) via ordinary web search. Of course, the database does not include "pop fiction." But if you are looking for something poetic, this might be a path to try.

I should have thought of this. Years ago, I accessed such databases myself, but not in the context of literature.

This does not necessarily mean that you will find what you seek. But if you cannot find it via ordinary web search, and cannot find it via academic database search, that says something.

  • This brings back memories. I'd (consciously) forgotten about those other databases, but probably (unconsciously) remembered having dealt with them in the past. – Terri Simon May 24 '17 at 16:46

If the Google can't find it I wouldn't worry about it. Even if the source of the text is ancient, Google not being to find it means nobody has quoted for 20 years.

Our brains are full of information we've no idea where it came from. We may have read it, we may have heard it, or we have made it up. Sometimes we have no idea.

It is also to be noted, much as we try, we're just not that original. Watch a TV drama or film. When two people are in conversation - guess the response before you here it. There's a good chance you'll get it right the majority of the time.

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