Since I’ve begun translating self-help texts more often, I’ve encountered that Gandhi quote about once a month, because everyone uses it. And it sounds right, doesn’t it? Gandhi was the kind of chap who would say you need to make an effort to achieve good things.
The problem is that Gandhi never actually said it. Yes, I’m sure he thought things that amounted to the same, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, a civil rights leader from the early-mid 20th century didn’t actually talk in soundbites like an inspirational poster from nearly 100 years later.
The same applies to many other great thinkers – in fact, you can pretty much guarantee that if you’ve seen it used as an inspirational quote against a picture of the sea*, it was never uttered in that form by the person it’s attributed to.
But today I’ve come across possibly the most bizarre example of this ever – and, topically, it’s a bit of a Valentine-themed one.
Charles Bukowski wrote a wonderful piece entitled “An Almost Made Up Poem”, which contains the fabulous lines “She’s mad but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire”.
Except… he didn’t. Well, he did write such a poem, and it is really good, but his actual words are “she’ mad but she’ magic. there’ no lie in her fire”. Which is, you know, infinitely better than the sanitised version. Much more… poetical, you might even say.
And yet, if you Google that line, you’ll see page after page of neatly laid out “She’s mad…”s, all with the ‘correct’ grammar and capitalisation.
Now I kind of get the Gandhi thing – you’re trying to make the point that improving society starts with improving yourself, and you choose the great man as the authority to back up your assertion. Fine. But why think “Ooh, I really like that poem by Bukowski, but I think he could have done with a good proofreader. I’ll fix it before I upload it”?
Anyway, if you want to read Bukowski’s original poem – trust me, it’s well worth a few minutes of your time – you can find it here.
*(ironically, the one? correctly quoted version does indeed have a background image of the sea!)