“And the people stayed at home”: the viral poem about the pandemic

A poem by a retired teacher has managed to strike a chord with millions of people who see this pandemic as an opportunity to grow. Why do we share what excites us?

The psychiatrist and neurologist Jorge Tizón says in this article that one of the notable differences between this COVID19 epidemic and other epidemics in history consists in the weight that the psychological and social components are having and in the speed of their influence. In this situation, explains Tizón, we have been able to experience that the most contagious for humanity is not viruses, but emotions. Perhaps that would explain what happened to the poem that begins by saying “And the people stayed at home,” by retired teacher Kitty O”Meara. He wrote it to relieve the anxiety caused by the news that reached him about COVID19 and posted it on his personal Facebook. Paradoxically, the poem spread at the speed of a pandemic through the networks. It was quickly translated from English to Italian, and later to Spanish.

Why have these words struck a chord so much? Probably because they send the positive message that this whole situation can be used for something. This is the poem that has gone viral:

“And people stayed home. And he read books and listened. And he rested and exercised. And he created art and played. And he learned new ways of being, of being still. And it stopped. And listened more deeply. Some were meditating. Some prayed. Some danced. Some found their shadows. And people started to think differently.

And when the danger passed, and the people came together again, they mourned their losses, made new decisions, dreamed of new images, created new ways of living, and healed the earth completely, just as they had been healed. ”


Several psychological concepts could explain why certain content related to the coronavirus (memes, jokes, poems, inspirational writings) quickly run through the networks.

  • Surprises make us generate dopamine. We know that our brain is programmed to explore, to discover new things. As the psychologist Ignacio Morgado explains, when something good and unexpected happens, the brain releases dopamine, which encourages us to continue seeking pleasure and awakens our motivation. In a confinement situation, social networks offer the possibility of obtaining that reward quickly and with a single click.
  • Positive emotions move us. The psychologist Brent Coker from the University of Melbourne found that it is more common for us to share content that takes us from emotions such as sadness or injustice to joy, love and justice. It”s just what happens with Kitty O”Meara”s viral poem.
  • We act to fill information gaps. George Loewenstein”s information gap theory suggests that we can often act to fill a gap between what we know and what we want to know. One of the reasons that this poem has been widely circulated is that at some point someone invented that it had been written 220 years ago during a plague epidemic. Many have wanted to see in these words a positive omen: what we are experiencing has already happened and we have come out of it well.

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