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Romantic-Era Lyrics

Romantic-Era Lyrics is an interactive database that houses scans and recordings of 18th-century romantic poetry as it was presented in its original time, in musical form.

During the Romantic era (1750-1850), a large number of great works of English literature were produced. Notable authors from this era include Lord Byron, Caroline Norton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and John Keats, just to name a few (Brians). But we have nearly forgotten that many of these works began life as songs, composed with original scores or as adaptations of traditional tunes. Books were, by modern standards, extremely expensive, so it was in musical form that many poems were known, performed, and circulated (Feldman). Such works include “Love Not,” by Caroline Norton (Blockley) and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Steinert). Some writers, such as Norton, composed the musical accompaniment for their poems themselves, while other authors relied on musicians to compose the accompaniment.

As printing has grown cheaper over time, we have forgotten the musical nature of these pieces. A student today read's Norton's "I Do Not Love Thee" from a book, while a member of Norton's contemporary audience would have heard her piece played in a pub or on the street by a live band. The goal of the Romantic-Era Lyrics project is to recombine the lyrics with instrumentation for these romantic works in order to present them as their original audiences experienced them.

The Romantic-Era Lyrics website will be a searchable database including information about composers, lyricists, and publishers. Modern recordings will be available for several pieces of music, and all pieces will have uncompressed, high-quality scans available for download. Using Joanna Swafford's Augmented Notes software, pages for pieces with recordings available will include a visualization of the recording along with the music. Users will be able to search by title, composer, lyricist, publisher, and by other musical characteristics.

Related Publications and Presentations

Feldman, P. “Romantic Poetry as Song Lyrics,” ASECS, Williamsburg, Virginia, March 21, 2014. 

Feldman, P. “Performing Romantic-Era Lyrics,” North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) annual conference “Romantic Movements,” Boston University and College of the Holy Cross, Boston, Massachusetts, August 9, 2013.