A very surprising list compiled by the Inky Fool. He analysed the Google Search result data and came up with the following:
10. Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all 2,400,000 Tennyson
9. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair 3,080,000 Shelley
8. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield 3,140,000 Tennyson
7. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams 4,860,000 W.B. Yeats
6. Not with a bang but a whimper 5,280,000 T.S. Eliot
5. And miles to go before I sleep 5,350,000 Robert Frost
4. I wandered lonely as a cloud 8,000,000 Wordsworth
3. The child is father of the man 9,420,000 Wordsworth
2. I am the master of my fate 14,700,000 William Ernest Henley
1. To err is human; to forgive, divine 14,800,000 Alexander Pope
Full Top 50
Some initial thoughts:
- What happened to the big guy? Shakespeare's highest entry is a miserable 13 with My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun while To be or not to be barely makes the Top 20.
- The Romantics remain crowd pleasers (Wordsworth has two entries, Shelley though perhaps surprisingly Keats lags behind.
- Pompous Christmas Cracker philosophising also good box-office (step forward Mr Tennyson).
- Slightly mystified by Henley's close second. Perhaps he appeals to the modern inclination to personalize ('I am the master of my fate'). Like a mawkish rendition of My Way in a Karaoke bar, the defiance has an undertone of self-pity. Phillip Larkin provides a bracing antidote to this mindset ('what remains of us is love')
- Over-familiarity produces a certain weariness when it comes to the winner. Few would dispute the the profundity of Pope's line. Nonetheless one suspects its victory is due less to literary merit than to its ubiquity in online sermons, religious and secular.