A Nigerian man has told CNN he was surprised to learn that US President Donald Trump had read a few lines of his poetry at an event marking St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday.
“My sister just brought the news to me. I didn’t want to believe what she said initially,” Albasheer Adam Alhassan, a Nigerian banker who wrote the poem in college, said. “I posted those things when I was back in school, over 10 years ago. I never thought it would get to this level.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have been a banker, maybe I should have been a poet all my life!” Alhassan added.
The poetry enthusiast, who lives in Katsina, is a business manager at First Bank of Nigeria.
Appearing at a luncheon with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Thursday, Trump said: “As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of that proverb – and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it. ‘Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue. But never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.’”
“We know that, politically speaking. A lot of us know that, we know it well. It’s a great phrase,” Trump added.
But many Irish tweeters pointed out that they had never heard Trump’s proverb before.
A White House spokeswoman told the Hill the proverb was supplied in an email on March 8 by the State Department via the National Security Council “as building blocks in advances of this event.”
“These building blocks were supplied in the context of the Shamrock Ceremony and were ultimately used in the prepared remarks for the luncheon,” the statement read.
A few people sleuthing for the proverb online posted links to Alhassan’s poem, which includes a similar stanza. His poem is featured on PoemHunter, a website that collects famous poems, as well as verses submitted by users. Alhassan submitted his poem in January 2013.
Alhassan said he hadn’t written any poetry in a while, but his newfound fame might get him back into it. However he won’t be turning his hand to political poetry anytime soon.
“Personally I am not so much into politics. I have heard a lot about Trump. Especially the fact that he victimized some of my people, some Muslims,” Alhassan, who is Muslim, said. Alhassan added that he didn’t have a personal opinion about Trump.
Versions of the poem have been traced back to as early as the 1930s, appearing in newspapers and journals. According to reporting by Wall Street Journal columnist Ben Zimmer, the same poem was attributed to Levi Furbush in a Mar. 3, 1936 edition of The Gazette and Daily of York, Pennsylvania.
So how did the poem, whose author may or may not be Alhassan, end up being read by the president of the US to mark St. Patrick’s Day?
Cody Keenan, a former speechwriter for Obama, had a theory.
And, lo and behold, if you Google the phrase, “famous Irish proverb,” the quote pops up as one of the first results – complete with a shamrock.