April 7, 2020 / 1:55 PM / 21 days ago

False claim: Viral poem on social distancing was written in 1869

Viral posts on social media are circulating a poem that begins with the line “And the people stayed home”.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

An example can be seen here .

Some posts make the claim that the poem was written in 1869 after the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century. Others say it was re-printed “during 1919 pandemic”, (here) - a reference to the Spanish flu outbreak that began in 1918.

Some posts attribute the poem to Grace Ramsey (here), pen name of Kathleen O’Meara, a 19th century French-Irish biographer and novelist (here).

The poem has attracted attention for its timely reflections on social distancing during the current coronavirus pandemic. It describes people adapting to isolation through reading, art, exercise, meditation and other activities.

The claim circulating on social media is false. The poem was not written in 1869 but in March 2020, by Catherine (Kitty) O’Meara, a retired teacher from Madison, Wisconsin.

O’Meara was interviewed about her poem by The Oprah Magazine in March 2020 (here). She commented on the writing process of the now-viral poem, "I was getting kind of sad. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t help my friends. I was very worried about them. My husband said: ‘Write. Just write again.’"

The original poem can be found on O’Meara’s blog, “The Daily Round”, dated March 16, 2020, (here).

VERDICT

False: Viral poem on social distancing was written by Kitty O’Meara, a retired teacher in Madison, Wisconsin in March 2020 (not by Kathleen O’Meara or Grace Ramsey in 1869)

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work here .

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