Measuring Poetic Style: a Comparative Approach to Historical Poetics

Natalie Houston
University of Massachusetts Lowell

Although literary critics have often made descriptive or evaluative claims about the poetic style of particular authors, or about the formal choices used to create particular effects within a poem, those claims are typically supported by localized textual evidence. Computational analysis can help us examine the patterns of poetic language both within a particular writer’s works and across a larger textual corpus to facilitate comparative studies and a sociological historical poetics. This paper presents a computational approach to measuring four features of Victorian poetic style: rhyme, enjambment, vocabulary richness, and repetition and explores their utility both for comparing the styles of individual authors and for understanding the stylistic conventions that shaped poetic practice in the nineteenth century.

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