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Posted by: Jean-Paul Bonhomme (
Date: December 16, 2003 03:46PM

Whenever I write, I am worried that I will unknowingly use someone else's line , phrase or "whatever"
There is no such thing as purely original art.
Everything we "create" is influenced by others' works.
That is why we are encouraged to read as much as we can in order to improve our own poetry.

I create songs in my head and hear them over and over again. I then wonder "Is that actually someone else's song that I am subconsciously recalling?"

I've written poems and then read others' for the first time and noticed identical terms in the same context.
Is this common?

Can anyone relate to this quandary I am in?

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 16, 2003 04:30PM

Jean-Paul, having the same subject matter is very common. Coming up with a whole line which is exactly the same is highly unlikely. For the past 12 months I have read virtually every poem posted on the User Submitted Poetry forum. There have been several "autumn" poems. At least 3 poems about the "wind", but I can't recall any poem which quoted an entire line that I recognized from either another poet here, or elsewhere.

Sometimes a poet intends to "borrow" lines from a classic work or song, but that is another matter completely. When that is the intention of the poet, he should make reference to the author, or place the words in question in quotation marks so the reader will know that he/she is quoting another work.


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: J.H.SUMMERS (
Date: December 16, 2003 05:45PM


Have a go at this and tell me what you think: <[] />

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 16, 2003 05:51PM

John, are you questioning his references to Scripture, or lack of originality of thought, or his questionable point of view?


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: J.H.SUMMERS (
Date: December 16, 2003 06:11PM


Neither, compare it to "Light Shining out of Darkness" by by William Cowper. How much of a poem can you "borrow" before it is considered plagiarism? I'm not saying the poem is or isn't...just curious.


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 16, 2003 06:20PM

Interesting observation. I would definitely say if the work is in copyright that he would be in violation of that for not giving direct reference to Cowper. Let's post both poems and see what others think. Chesil, Marian NYC, what are your thoughts on this?

William Cowper (1731-1800)
Light Shining out of Darkness

1God moves in a mysterious way,
2 His wonders to perform;
3He plants his footsteps in the sea,
4 And rides upon the storm.

5Deep in unfathomable mines
6 Of never-failing skill,
7He treasures up his bright designs,
8 And works his sov'reign will.

9Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
10 The clouds ye so much dread
11Are big with mercy, and shall break
12 In blessings on your head.

13Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
14 But trust him for his grace;
15Behind a frowning providence
16 He hides a smiling face.

17His purposes will ripen fast,
18 Unfolding ev'ry hour;
19The bud may have a bitter taste,
20 But sweet will be the flow'r.

21Blind unbelief is sure to err,
22 And scan his work in vain;
23God is his own interpreter,
24 And he will make it plain.

Ceasar (from the USP forum)

The Anti-Christ

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He casts his shadow on the mind
And moves it to conform

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will

Ye fearful thinkers, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings upon your head

Judge the Lord by rational sense
But trust him not for his grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

His deception debased
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

Blind belief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain
God is too much to bear
And we will make it plain


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: J.H.SUMMERS (
Date: December 16, 2003 06:55PM


I am well familiar with Cowper's poem and some of his hymns. I probably would have forgotten the whole thing had this individual not added this to the bottom of his post: "I wrote this some time ago but was reminded of it while speaking to a devout Christian."


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Linda (
Date: December 16, 2003 07:04PM

This is obviously not the unconscious plagiarism Jean-Paul was concerned about. It must be a deliberate use of Cowper, and so should have acknowledged the source. As John recognises its the sneaky last line of comment that grates.

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: December 16, 2003 07:04PM

Emerson's essay on SHAKESPEARE addresses this question. He says (in part) that material belongs to the writer who can make the best use of it. He argues that Shakespeare took all kinds of things--plots, images, phrases--from many sources, and never pretended otherwise ... but he USED those images and phrases so much better than the original authors, that they are now rightfully HIS.

But that's a judgment made hundreds of years later.

When I'm writing words or music, I feel it's my job to never KNOWINGLY lift something without giving credit, and should my work eventually go before the public, I hope my friends-editors-others will let me know if I have UN-knowingly snagged something. Remember the fuss over "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison? It really is a musical copy of "He's So Fine." Harrison said in court that if he had realized they were so similar, he would have changed his song -- and I believed him. I was surprised that out of all the dozens of professional music people who were involved in producing the song, NOT ONE OF THEM (1) noticed and (2) mentioned it. That's what really astonished me.

Jean-Paul, if you are alert to "identical terms [used] in the same context" by different authors, then you needn't worry about plagiarism. INTENT is at the soul of plagiarism. In every case that I can remember getting angry about, my feeling was anger at a writer for KNOWINGLY re-publishing someone else's hard work. NOT for happening to overlap footprints when covering the same ground.

What's more, if you and Poet X have used "identical terms in the same context," then probably so have a lot of other poets. In fact, the reason a lot of plagiarism suits fail is that judges often rule that IDEAS are not own-able, and a certain amount of overlap is likely to occur once you start down the same road. SIMILARITY is not plagiarism, unless it's proved that someone claimed credit for the product without going through the process.

But back to my main point: Keep writing. Keep NOTICING when your phrasing turns up elsewhere. Keep looking for a voice that is entirely yours AND not noticeably anybody else's. Keep improving. Don't worry.


P.S.: I said ""Is that actually someone else's song that I am unconsciously recalling?" before you did!

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Pam Adams (134.71.192.---)
Date: December 16, 2003 07:39PM

Check out this site- []. This is a poem about ethics which has often been stolen!


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 17, 2003 02:39AM

J. H. , in my mind Caesar's use of the poem is plagiarism plain and simple. His comment on the bottom only shows that he felt someone might question its authenticity. And he was right, they did!

Marian, interesting that you should bring up the question of musical credits. As I was listening to many of the Beach Boy songs, I was amazed that no one questioned their "borrowing" from Chuck Berry on the opening riffs of "Fun, fun, and Fun" and other songs. To me their likeness to the original was more apparent than Harrison's.

As far as composing and recognizing a line as being too similar to a classic I, too, have changed lines which reminded me of another's work.

Pam, thanks for sharing that link. It makes one think.

Jean-Paul I wouldn't worry about some sort of unconscious overlapping. Like Marian has said, there are certain common thoughts which occur. It is highly unlikely, however, that an entire work will emerge from two separate sources that is exactly the same as a classic, or even another contemporary's work.


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: December 17, 2003 04:02AM

Hate to disagree with so many of you but I think Ceasar's effort is parody and he thinks the hymn he parodied is so familiar to his intended readers that he didn't need to attribute it. I agree it's insulting to Cowper and Christians, but that is the intention, not plagiarism.

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: December 17, 2003 11:33AM

Yes, parody. Just not very good parody. He doesn't prove his point, I mean. The lines are too close to the original: he needs to show the opposite view on a per-stanza basis.

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Jean-Paul Bonhomme (
Date: December 17, 2003 02:19PM

I just saw that posting

What parody?

A parody would make itself obvious.

If he didn't intend plagiarism, only he knows: however, it looks like it to me.

Maybe he can explain himself.

If I were him AND I was sincere, I would welcome that opportunity.

Hold him accountable.

smiling smiley smiling smiley sad smiley

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: December 17, 2003 02:53PM

Re: Beach Boys and Chuck Berry --

AGAIN - intent is the key. If I write a play in which a character says, "To be or not to be -- that is the question," I expect my listeners to understand that I expect my listeners to know that it's a quotation. And there are "quotations" in music, too.

Pop musicians often speak very openly about the bits they've used from others' songs, and the "others" generally take that as a compliment.

For example, Pete Townshend said (in print, more than once) that he heard the word SUBSTITUTE in the song "Tracks of My Tears" and he was so struck by it that he wrote the song "Substitute."

John Sebastian, when touring, introduces "Younger Girl" by telling about how he found an ancient blues recording called "Prison Bar Blues" in a record shop, and loved the first line -- "Them prison-bar blues keep rolling across my mind" -- and started his song the same way.

Harrison's "When We Was Fab" includes the line "But it's all over now, Baby Blue," and nobody would accuse him of stealing it because it's obviously addressed TO the original author. And don't get me started on "America Pie"!

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 17, 2003 02:57PM

Marian NYC, I'd love to get you started on American Pie. But back to the point of Harrison. Obviously, the lyrics didn't fit the He's So Fine format. Was Harrison fined for a "music" copyright?


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: rikki (
Date: December 17, 2003 06:48PM

I agree with Marian; intent is the key.
One of my favourite songwriters is Nick Cave who often quotes other poets in his lyrics; like Louise Labé in "Green Eyes" (Kiss me again, rekiss me and kiss me); Milton in "Song of Joy" (The sun to me is dark and silent as the moon) and Auden in "Wonderful Life" (Plunge your hands into the water). He openly acknowledges that he draws inspiration from the classics, and part of the pleasure of listening to him is being able to pick the quotes.

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: December 18, 2003 12:28AM

Les, the decision in the "He's So Fine" vs "My Sweet Lord" was very complicated and very weird. Allen Klien was involved (and for those who are obsessed with the minutae of Bealtes' history, more need not be said.)

Read about it at:

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: argo (
Date: December 18, 2003 08:45AM

render unto caesar...render unto cowper....


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Jean-Paul Bonhomme (
Date: December 19, 2003 12:13PM

If doubted, explain yourself.
How about it Caesar?
What Up?

Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: December 19, 2003 12:21PM

Jean-Paul, Ceasar hasn't posted on the board (under that name) for over a year.


Re: Plagiarism
Posted by: Jean-Paul Bonhomme (
Date: December 20, 2003 03:23AM


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