How to use the poem search

The poem search page has two main components: a text search, which enables you to search within the text of poems and metadata, and a large array of different filters that you can use to constrain your results. The search functionality can be used for sophisticated research questions. This page provides some more detailed information and a worked example to help you get started. There are two sections: Using the text search and Using the filters.

Using the text search

First, it’s important to note that you can only search the transcriptions of poems where they have actually been transcribed. Only 2216 poems of the 16030 in the collection have been transcribed (these are mostly those published on the decade years—1820, 1830 and so on—but there are others scattered across the collection). For untranscribed poems, you can search the metadata, first line, illustration descriptions etc., but not the poem transcription or the information on poetics and style.
This is a stemming search engine so, generally speaking, if you search for a word such as love, the search engine will apply stemming and return related forms such as loving and loves. For finer control, there are two wild-card characters that can be used in searches: asterisk (*) and question mark (?). An asterisk represents zero or more characters; a question mark represents a single character. A wild-card search allows you to truncate endings, so that a search for usur* will return results that include usury, usurie, and usurer. The wild card can also be used within a word to return all possible variations in that position. For example, a search for w*ld would return wild, world, and withheld, and so on, while a search for w?ld would return only four-letter words such as wild or weld. Combining internal and terminal wild cards would return more variants. For example, w?ld* would yield results that include wild, wildest, and wilderness.
You can also use plus and minus signs to specify that a term must or must not be in the results. For example, searching for +love +like -hate will find documents that contain both love and like but not hate.

Using the filters

The search filters enable you to generate or answer sophisticated research questions. Here is a worked example:
Imagine that you would like to track the prevalence of the stanza rhyme-scheme abab in periodicals over the Victorian period: in what decades is it most popular? (Of course it is important to remember that these dates are dates of publication, not of composition; older poems are frequently republished in these periodicals.) We can gather some evidence on this question by using the search filters.
Before we start, we need to acknowledge that only transcribed poems have information about their dominant rhyme-scheme, so the first thing to do is to check the Transcribed checkbox in the Transcription status field.
Now we can gather information for the decade 1820-1829:
  • Put 1820 in the Publication / Date From field, and 1829 in the Date To.
  • Click on Search to find out how many transcribed poems there are in that period.
  • Note the number of documents found (197 at the time of writing, February 2022).
  • Now constrain the count by clicking on Poem features, and type abab into the Dominant rhyme scheme box. From the drop-down list, select abab. This creates a filter for that specific rhyme-scheme and checks it for you.
  • Now do the search again, and note the number of poems (18 at the time of writing). That means that in this collection, 18 * 100 / 197 = 9.14% of poems use the rhyme-scheme abab.
  • Now do the same calculations for each subsequent decade-year. To get the total number of poems, just uncheck the abab control, then check it again to activate the filter.
The table below shows the results at the time of writing.
Decade Total Poems Poems with abab Percentage
1820s 197 18 9.14%
1830s 186 27 14.52%
1840s 293 56 19.11%
1850s 180 30 16.67%
1860s 375 58 15.47%
1870s 241 33 13.69%
1880s 205 29 14.15%
1890s 261 36 13.79%
As you can see, we don’t learn much of interest from this particular operation, except that there is a brief small peak in usage of abba in poems published in the 1840s.
Martin Holmes, February 2022