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About English Poetry


English Poetry is the most comprehensive electronic archive of English poetry available. On its launch in 1992 (on CD-ROM), it was described by Edwin Morgan as a 'Shelleyan universal anthology waiting to be dipped into by random hands', and since then it has become recognised as an indispensable research tool for scholars and students from around the world.

The collection contains over 160,000 poems, essentially comprising the complete canon of English poetry of the British Isles from the 8th century to around 1900. Drawn from nearly 4,500 printed sources, more than 1,250 poets are represented.

Editorial Policy

The bibliographic source is the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1969–72). The database aims to encompass the complete published corpus by all poets listed in NCBEL who were active between 1100 and 1900. The Anglo-Saxon period is represented by the complete six-volume series of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, edited by George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie (Columbia University Press, 1931–53). In addition, certain landmark anthologies were also recommended by the Editorial Board. These have been included in their entirety, for example:

  • Richard Tottel's Songes and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward [...] and others (1557), also known as Tottel's Miscellany
  • George Ferrers's The Mirror for Magistrates (1559)
  • England's Helicon (1600)
  • Robert Dodsley's A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands (1763)
  • Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs, and other Pieces of our earlier Poets, (Chiefly of the Lyric kind.) Together with some few of later Date. The Second Edition (1767)
  • Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish border: Consisting of historical and romantic ballads, collected in the southern counties of Scotland; With a few of modern date, founded upon local tradition. (1802)
  • Francis Turner Palgrave's The Golden Treasury of the best songs and lyrical poems in the English Language: Revised and enlarged (1981–97)
  • Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–98)

Certain categories of material have not generally been included:

  • Translations into English verse after 1800
  • Hymns published after 1800
  • Works in languages other than English
  • Unpublished manuscript poems or those only published in contemporary newspapers, journals, or miscellanies
  • Verse dramas intended for the stage (these are included in the complementary Chadwyck-Healey collection English Drama)

The Editorial Board nevertheless recommended exceptions to these criteria when works which did not meet them were considered too important to be excluded.

The Editions

In general, the collection reproduces the text of editions published during the authorís lifetime or shortly afterwards. Where the early editions of a poetís work are unreliable or incomplete, later editions have been used. In several cases, for example, numerous Middle English texts published by the Early English Text Society, modern copyright editions have been included by special arrangement with the print publishers.

Only a single version of each poem has usually been included, generally favouring the author's final intentions. Exceptions were made for significant revisions to major works such as Wordsworth's The Prelude: the collection includes the 'Two-Part Prelude' from Jonathan Wordsworth's 1985 Cambridge University Press edition, the 1805 text from Ernest de Selincourt's 1926 Clarendon Press edition, and the expanded 14-book version from the the posthumously published 1850 text.

Some variants of poems originally collected from different manuscripts or oral sources have also been included, such as all versions of the ballads in the main text of Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–98). In the case of William Langland's Piers Plowman, all four recognised variant texts are included: the A, B and C versions from W.W. Skeat's Early English Text Society Edition, plus The Z Version edited by A.G. Rigg and Charlotte Brewer (Toronto, 1983).

The Texts

The entire text of each poem has been included. Any accompanying text written by the poet and forming an integral part of the poem, such as dedications, notes, arguments and epigraphs, is also generally included.

Volume-specific front and back matter, such as advertisements, prefaces, introductions, editorial apparatus, dedicatory epistles, biographies, glossaries and indexes is usually excluded, as are some lengthy authorial notes considered inessential to the understanding of a particular poem.

Editorial Board

Professor John Barnard, School of English, University of Leeds
Professor Derek Brewer, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge
Lou Burnard, Oxford Text Archive, University of Oxford
Dr Howard Erskine-Hill, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
Professor Daniel Karlin, Department of English, University College London

Case Study

Daniel Karlin, 'Victorian Poetry and the English Poetry Full-Text Database: A Case Study'

Daniel Karlin, who is Professor of English at University College, London, describes his use of English Poetry in compiling The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (1997) as 'an extraordinary experience, and one which permanently changed [his] understanding of literary history'. Whereas existing received notions of the nature of Victorian poetry are based on an 'absurdly small and unrepresentative' canon, Professor Karlin was able to discover, and include in his anthology, many poets who had been completely forgotten. Electronic collections allow a new, more open kind of reading, he claims: 'the sameness of appearance of the texts made me more open, less prejudiced than I might otherwise have been; English Poetry doesn't allow you to judge a book by its cover.'

Readers should note that in 2000, after Professor Karlin had carried out his work, Chadwyck-Healey launched English Poetry, Second Edition, an expanded version of the collection that corrected many of the omissions noted in this article. New writers who were added in 2000 include previously neglected women poets, such as Amy Levy and Augusta Webster, and writers classified as novelists in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, such as George Meredith and George Eliot.

Read Professor Karlin's article in full.