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Immature Poets Imitate; Mature Poets Steal

Plagiarism, is what we in the writing business, call "textual rape." There are many beautiful stories about plagiarism. Great writers of the world are mostly plagiarists. The list of plagiarists included poets like Shakespeare and Eliot.

Blatant plagiarism ends up being the catalyst that launches the career of some great men like a rocket powered by lies. We may justify Shakespeare’s plagiarism by saying that he was writing to the conventions of his day – before plagiarism became an overbearing concern. But Greene turned his attention to Shakespeare and discovered in his writings the hand of an inveterate plagiarist, "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers".

If all writers are pickpockets, then Shakespeare was an inveterate "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles", like Autolycus in The Winter's Tale. He swiped the best bits of Antony and Cleopatra: “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water” direct from Plutarch, and took 4,144 out of 6,033 lines in Parts I, II and III of Henry VI verbatim or in paraphrase from other authors. Apart from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, the plots for all his plays were ruthlessly appropriated from other, often classical, sources.

Milton cribbed from Masenius. Later, Laurence Sterne cribbed from Robert Burton, Samuel Coleridge from Schelling, and TS Eliot from all and sundry in The Waste Land.  JRR Tolkien borrowed heavily from the Norse sagas. Who will ever forget that T.S. Eliot himself a famous plagiarist glorified plagiarism: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” ? T.S. Eliot wrote several great, enduring poems, such as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" which had a ridiculous title, and "The Hollow Men," which, we were depressed to discover, wasn't about a naked, invisible, murdering lunatic. Perhaps his greatest work was a poem entitled, The Waste Land, which was a haunting statement of his disillusionment with the post-war era. It was a literary milestone, and is still celebrated today as one of the greatest works of poetry in history. But a fair amount of the content, of The Waste Land was plagiarized from an almost unknown American poet named Madison Cawein.

Cawein's poem was even named "Waste Land." It was first published in the same issue of Poetry as Eliot's "Love Song," and contains several metaphors that were later used word for word by Eliot in his "The Waste Land."  Eliot's line, "Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song," was stolen entirely from Edmund Spenser's Prothalamion.

Among others we may refer to Stephen Ambrose also wrote award-winning biographies on Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and plagiarizes from Childer’s The Wings of Morning pages after pages for his hit 2001 novel, The Wild Blue.

Martin Luther King Jr. of America was a great plagiarist. His own university admits that his doctoral thesis, the very foundation of his career, was significantly plagiarized. Despite clear findings of plagiarism, the committee did not recommend he be posthumously stripped of his title, due to Dr. King's incredible services to the world.

Theodore Pappas presents a detailed accusation in his book, Plagiarism and the Culture War that several select lines from his famous "I Have a Dream," speech are all plagiarized by Martin Luther King who fought all his life as a civil rights activist.

The world of science is still worse. We know the Marconi-Jagadish Chandra Bose conflict on the invention of Electro Magnetic Wave theory. Today people regard Marcony as the inventor of radio. Jonah Lehrer, a science writer, left the New Yorker after making up Bob Dylan quotes in a recent book. He'd already been compromised by the celibate-seeming sin of plagiarizing himself - not just a fact or a turn of phrase, unfortunately, but vast sections of prior articles fobbed off as new.

The ubiquitous pundit Fareed Zakaria, meanwhile, took a dip in hot water for plagiarizing a New Yorker article in his Time column. The Higgs Boson theories are good examples of plagiarism.

Journalism is never free from plagiarism. Even the photographs and the breaking news. Nobody bothers about attribution here. The editorial board is most of the time unaware of the plagiarism if certain words or approach are modified. Their inefficiency is most apparent when they punish one and reward the other not knowing that the rewarded person is the greater plagiarist. He does not imitate, he steals directly. They justify it as editorial parameters. It is not that plagiarism is undetected. There are detectors of plagiarism but with almost zero effect.

With a program called Pl@giarism, Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London, detected 200 strings of three or more words in Edward III that matched phrases in Shakespeare's other works. Vickers came to his conclusion after using plagiarism-detection software — as well as his own expertise — to compare writing patterns between Edward III and Shakespeare's body of work. He is not the first to use software of any kind to analyze the linguistic patterns of literature. Homerian scholar Martin Mueller of Northwestern University, who has lauded Vickers' work, has used the "search and display" function in his computerized database to analyze Homer's works. With the tool, he has been able to highlight distinctive phrasal repetitions in the author's prose. Plagiarism has become a fun. In this age of copy and paste, plagiarism is permitted everywhere, only the degree varies.


More by :  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

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Views: 3496      Comments: 4

Comment Let me quote a news item of today without comment -

Apple and Samsung

In what will no doubt be a precedent for the tech industry, a jury has found Samsung infringed on Apple’s patents in the Apple and Samsung trial. A nine person Jury is still reading the verdict. So far, Samsung has been found in violation of 4 patents for most of the devices in question. Samsung has also been found guilty of willful infringement for most patents in question for most of the company’s devices, except for the Galaxy Tab. All of Apple’s patents were found valid as well, another big blow to Samsung. As far as damages, the jury has awarded Apple $1 billion and $51 million dollars for Samsung’s infringements. Samsung’s claims against Apple are all turning out to be found in Apple’s favor…

Hope this rambling itself hasn't been pinched.

24-Aug-2012 19:55 PM

Comment You mention T S Eliot who indeed regarded historical allusion as an essential constituent in the writing of poetry. Verbatim phrases from the classics are intended to provide that dimension of the past, in which the present can find its bearings, and result in poetry. In all so-called plagiaristic practice, the evocation of echoes of the past is really the goal, and is not, as it might be implied to be, gratuitous borrowing to supply a shortfall in one's own creative capabilities.

22-Aug-2012 09:15 AM

Comment thank you Julia Madam.. I have seen your blogs ..you are a wonderful writer. We may interact more on the facebook. I find nothing wrong in plagiarism.. This is an age old ideas that one cannot take ideas from others. If I copy verbatim that is not agreeable. But if I borrow for modifying and enriching ... this is called emulation and not imitation. thank you for your sharing...

22-Aug-2012 08:13 AM

Comment Dr Rattan Bhattacharjee,

A nice write. Finally, for ages, people seem to have only that many ideas. But they seem to have an build on other people's ideas! Can you imagine, in the present world when all is out in the open on the internet, what we are about to see. I am afraid, the programme Pl@giarism might crash!

I am sharing your article up on my twitter too @juliadutta so many of my followers or those I follow may read it.

Julia Dutta
22-Aug-2012 00:24 AM

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