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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. Full details of the volumes included in English Poetry are given in the bibliography.
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- Unpublished manuscript poems or those only published in contemporary newspapers, journals, or miscellanies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.