My friend Stefan Hagemann pointed me to a paragraph in Branka Arsić’s “Henry David Thoreau’s Magical Thinking,” a piece that came online a week ago at The New Republic , adapted from Arsić’s book Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau , published last month by Harvard University Press. Stefan didn’t tell me what to look for, but I found it anyway:
In that question, birds are employed in the same way as nature in John Donne’s “Lycidas,” a poem whose parts Thoreau copied in one of his very early commonplace books.Ouch. The mistake gives new life to a question my friend Rob Zseleczky once heard someone ask a professor: “Milton: didn’t he write Chaucer?” Well, yes. But Donne wrote Milton.
The Bird Relics version of the sentence mentions neither Donne nor Milton:
In that question, on Sherman Paul’s understanding, birds are employed in the same way as nature in “Lycidas,” a poem whose parts Thoreau copied in one of his very early commonplace books.Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone involved in preparing this piece for The New Republic could have added Donne’s name — the writer, an editor at the Press or the magazine, an intern putting in a link to the text of “Lycidas.” (That text is prefaced by the name John Milton.) What’s remarkable is that no one noticed along the way, at least not anyone with the authority to make a correction. But Stefan noticed, and invited me to notice. So thanks, Stefan.
8:57 p.m.: The New Republic now recognizes John Milton as the author of “Lycidas.”
[Stefan Hagemann has made many appearances in these pages. He wrote one of OCA’s two guest posts: How to answer a professor. The other guest post is by my daughter Rachel: Rachel’s tips for success in college.]