Verse lines

poem line break
l lg

The l element is the basic unit for encoding lines of verse, as distinct from prose lines. The fundamental difference between the two is that verse lines are defined by their metrical or aesthetic unity, whereas prose lines are assumed to be a function of the size of the printed page. Where a verse line, given unlimited room, would still come to an end at a particular point, a prose line under the same circumstances would stretch to the edge of the page (or the end of the paragraph or other containing text unit, whichever came first).

Because line breaks may also occur within a verse line (for instance, on a narrow page), it’s important to distinguish between line boundaries that define verse lines, and line boundaries that are forced by the page size (which are encoded with lb).

It is comparatively easy to identify verse lines in traditional poetic contexts, where verse forms are well-defined and familiar:

<l>Shall I compare thee to a <lb/>
summer’s day?</l>

But with more recent poetry you will need to establish recognition criteria appropriate for your text and author. In some cases, the presence of an initial capital letter might signal the start of a new verse line in some contexts. If other printings of the same poem exist, a comparison of their line breaks may help distinguish those that the author considered constitutive of the verse from those that are an artifact of a particular edition. For some texts, the interplay between the book layout and the poetry may be so tight that it is impossible to make a distinction between the verse line and its particular typographical rendering—in such a case, every new line on the page would be encoded with a separate l.