Online Editor's Introduction

The RPO Owl

We are grateful to Kevin Keatley for permission to use his photograph of a tawny owl (Q4217) as RPO icon. Arpie wears a wise, at time predatory heart on his face and has many varied literary associations. The Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, made the owl her special symbol. Shakespeare characterized the tawny owl's song happily in Love's Labour's Lost -- "Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit; Tu-who, a merry note." D.B. Wyndham and Charles Lee titled their immortal anthology of good bad verse The Stuffed Owl (1952), although its hearing being ten times better than ours, the tawny owl may be said to have a good ear for song. Our nocturnal hunter is also associated with death. Found widely only in Europe and Asia today, and far from being a threatened species, this owl now lives as a close observer of humanity.

The Online Versions

Representative Poetry Online, version 3.0, includes 4,700 English poems by 723 poets from Caedmon, in the Old English period, to the work of living poets today. It is based on Representative Poetry, established by Professor W. J. Alexander of University College, University of Toronto, in 1912 (one of the first books published by the University of Toronto Press), and used in the English Department at the University until the late 1960s.

Its electronic founder and editor since 1994 is Ian Lancashire, who is a member of the Department of English, University of Toronto. He edits the poems in affection for and gratitude to their authors, whose works enrich and restore our lives.

The bibliographical sources from which the selections are made hold great libraries of poetry for readers and critics venturing out on their own, and for the reader interested in reading more by one poet. If you enjoy these poems, you may also learn from them by growing interested in the poets, the periods in which they lived, and the intellectual and artistic traditions that define the conversations which poets have with their predecessors.

The first online version (Dec. 15, 1994) offered poems in the third edition of Representative Poetry (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962-63, reprinted with corrections 1967), a historical collection of some 730 poems by about 80 poets from Sir Thomas Wyatt to Algernon Charles Swinburne. The second online version (Sept. 31, 1996) was supplemented by many poets and poems appearing in the edition of 1935 (revised and enlarged, 1941-46) but not carried over into the 1962-63 edition for lack of space. In 1997-98, poems found in the editions of 1912 and 1916 that did not find a place afterwards were added, with notes. Several hundred new poets and UTEL (University of Toronto Library), a collection of texts and writings by Department members, were created at that time.

In 2000-2002, funded by the Office of the Provost, the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Department of English, RPO was transformed from a collection of HTML files into a relational database. Ian Lancashire devised the database fields, and Dr. Marc Plamondon programmed and implemented the database. Sian Meikle, the University's Digital Librarian, supervised programming, with help from Alan Darnell. Dr. Plamondon, with help from Christopher Jennings and Ian Lancashire, transferred poems, one by one, from the old HTML site into the database. The conversion enabled the team to expand information about the poets (work undertaken by Katrine Raymond) and Dr. Plamondon to add a last-line index, and, among many other things, to automate index production and put in place a concordance search. RPO Version 3 came online on October 16, 2002. Marc Plamondon became associate editor on June 1st, 2005.

Since 1994, the general editor has newly prepared several hundred poets not in the original printed editions and added them to the online version.  Version 3.0 also offers six indexes (title, first-line, poets, timeline, calendar of year's days, glossary, and the poets' works by date of birth), a bibliography, and a search engine that are not in any printed edition.

The texts of the poems in the printed editions are based on the books or manuscripts in which they originally appeared. Their spelling was generally normalized in the edited volumes. New texts, found only in the online version, are transcribed from original editions, mainly without altered spelling.

The Printed Editions

Representative Poetry was produced on many occasions from 1912 to 1967 by faculty who were formerly members of the University of Toronto combined Departments of English. (Each college, whether religious or nondenominational, had its own English faculty then.) See the history of Representative Poetry for details.

The founding co-editors were W. J. Alexander, Professor of English at University College, and the first professor of English appointed at that college, and his assistant William Hall Clawson. After Alexander's retirement, Clawson and other members of the Department undertook the editorial duties. In general, all editors selected poems for inclusion by drawing on both critical judgment and affection.

The English Department wished, in the words of the General Editors of the last edition (often termed the third edition), "to prepare its own anthology of poetry for the use of students, particularly in the pass (now the general) course." This teaching collection came to be used widely outside Toronto in Canada and in some US institutions. As a cooperative, non-commercial venture by faculty with widely differing approaches to their common subject, Representative Poetry was unusual then, as now.

In the last edition, the General Editors described their editorial policy in the following words.

The texts have been completely re-edited, and the main effort has in fact been devoted to the provision of good texts, that is, of texts which represent as closely as possible their authors' intention. The aim has therefore been not to depart in substantial readings from the original texts of greatest authority, whether printed or manuscript, unless there seemed to be strong grounds for emendation. However, the text has been modernized in spelling, or punctuation, or both except in the case of Spenser and for a few words left in Milton's distinctive spelling (e.g., highth andsovran); as earlier editors of Representative Poetry have pointed out, no system of modernization can be completely satisfactory and consistent when several centuries are involved--our aim, like theirs, has been "a minimum of change thought advantageous for the ordinary reader.

The following seven members of the former Combined Departments of English formed an editorial committee that was responsible for the second major printed edition (1931-46):

The late Professor Endicott contributed his large library of first editions of poets to the University's Fisher Rare Book Library. His generosity has made re-editing the collection possible.

The following 19 members of the former Combined Departments of English were responsible for the third major printed edition (1963-67):

The present editor, a student of Peter Morgan and a colleague of almost all the others, taught fromRepresentative Poetry on joining the Department of English at Erindale College in 1968.

A few years after the University of Toronto published the final corrected edition, the Combined Departments became a single entity, and the former Honours degree was replaced by specialist, major, and minor programmes. No longer did English students have to proceed through an identical sequence of courses. They could choose different combinations of courses. For this and other reasons, the Department chose not to continue editing or using Representative Poetry. In 1971 the University of Toronto Press then distributed the remaining copies of the last edition throughout the then Third World.

In 1993 Linda Corman, Librarian at Trinity College, University of Toronto, encouraged the editor to participate in an experimental Web resources program at the main Library. He then obtained the permission of the University of Toronto Press, specifically Wally Brooker, to reedit the volumes online. Sian Meikle, now Digital Librarian at Toronto, advised on the structuring and designing the poet and poem Web pages; and Sharine Leung, head of the New College computing facility, rough-scanned the printed volumes.

The editor is now responsible for the proofreading, indexing, encoding, and annotation of all Representative Poetry Online files. The Web Development Group at the Library not only publishes the collection but creates the keyword-search facility.

Differences between the Two Editions

The online version differs from the printed editions in several ways.

First, all information, poems, and commentaries are stored in a Microsoft Access database, which is made available for querying on the World Wide Web through Cold Fusion and the Standard Query Language (SQL).

Second, whereas the poems followed one another in chronological order in the printed editions, the online poems have no fixed place in the electronic edition. Readers must use the indexes to orient themselves. As a result, there are now many more ways of viewing and combining the poems than in the printed books.

Finally, information in the notes in the printed edition has been linked hypertextually with the lines in the poems. Instead of looking up notes at the back of a printed edition, a reader makes a single keystroke or mouse-click on a highlighted word or passage in the text.

Editorial Methods

The texts of the poems are normally based on the books or manuscripts in which they originally appeared. Short references to these are either included in the poem file itself or sometimes to an electronic edition of the full text of the original works.

The 1994 online edition was a collection of linked HTML files. They were edited with UNIX emacs, sed (the UNIX stream-editor) and simple perl programs. By using UNIX grep, fgrep, and sort to search for SGML tags and the lines they delimit, I was able to extract and sort titles, first lines, and dates into basic indexes. Until 2002, I entered or scanned most poems, and constructed all the indexes, manually.


Copyright for this collection rests with its editors, past and present, with the Department of English (University of Toronto), and with the University of Toronto Press.

Most poems in Representative Poetry Online are in the public domain. The Editors, the Department of English, and the University of Toronto Press assert no copyright claim on these works. Only the collection as a whole, its editorial framework, introduction, notes, and indexes of these Web collections are subject to the above copyright restriction.

Where a poem is in copyright, Representative Poetry Online has received permission from the copyright-holder to publish it. Readers cannot publish or distribute copyrighted texts without the explicit written permission of the copyright-holder. Anyone wishing to republish copyrighted poems in Representative Poetry Online must ask the copyright-holder, normally the print-publisher, for permission to do so. TheRepresentative Poetry Online editor, as far as possible, respects the current copyright law of the country of which a poet was citizen at the time he or she wrote the work in question.

Representative Poetry Online would gladly rectify any unwitting infringements on copyright.

Usually, copyright constraints explain why well-respected poets are not represented.

Usage and Availability

Representative Poetry Online is published on a World Wide Web page of the University of Toronto English Library (UTEL), which is listed under Electronic Books in the University Library's Resources page. An early version of this encoded collection also belongs to the TACT manual published by the Modern Language Association in 1996.

Permission is hereby given to use Representative Poetry for non-commercial educational uses, that is, for teaching, research, and study, as long as copyright information is not removed from any Representative Poetry Online file, the authors of its commentaries are clearly stated, and no charge is made for use of the collection.