This poem has been doing the rounds for years. It’s popped up as an old man and old woman in the USA, an old woman called “Kate” in the UK and also the old man featured here in Australia (couldn’t find any information on the man pictured, but he certainly is not the author of the poem.)
We like the poem so we reckon it should be attributed to the person who actually wrote it and not preceded by the unnecessarily saccharine and bogus pre-story.
SO. The origins of the poem are pretty hazy, it’s been kicking around in various forms and titles and countries for many years but seemingly the best version of its origins is offered by Joanna Bornat in a 2005 conference paper, “Empathy & Stereotype: the work of a popular poem” who discovered that the poem may actually have been written by Phyllis McCormack in 1966, a nurse in a Scottish hospital.
Amongst the responses to a small survey which I carried out in 1998 while researching attitudes to the poem 3 (Bornat, 2004) was a cutting from the Daily Mail newspaper in which the son of Phyllis McCormack, whose name is often linked with the poem as its discoverer, explained:
My mother, Phyllis McCormack, wrote this poem in the early Sixties when
she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose.
Originally entitled Look Closer Nurse, the poem was written for a small
magazine for Sunnyside only Phyllis was very shy and submitted her work
A copy of the magazine was lent to a patient at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee,
who copied it in her own handwriting and kept it in her bedside locker. When
she died, the copy was found and submitted to the Sunday Post newspaper,
attributed to the Ashludie patient.
Since my mother’s death in 1994 her work has travelled all over the world…
(Daily Mail, 12 March 1998).
Credit where it’s due – and it appears to be due to Phyllis McCormack, 1966.