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Macro-Typography of Poetry: 6

First Lines

Some page designers may want to use an enlarged initial letter to begin the very first verse of the poem: in the latest visual browsers, this can potentially be addressed within the <p> array in the Document Object Model (DOM) using a CSS selector like this: DIV.poem > P:first-child {}. This does not however work in versions of Internet Explorer up to and including 5.5, and it may be some time before the time is ripe to exploit this method generally. A similar device is to fully capitalize the first word: avoid the temptation to do this in your source file, since this is a decorative, not a semantic feature, and there are no insuperable technical obstacles to adding capitalization later with a script or browser capabilities.

The designer needs to consider in any case what function, beyond pure decoration, such a large initial or capitalized first word is supposed to have. In manuscripts and poetry collections, large initials were used to be used to draw the eye and thus had an organizing purpose. On a video display, the eye proceeds without such help to the start of each poem, and if the decision has been taken to have only one poem per window, the justification for this sort of typographical decoration largely disappears.

Aural and other non-visual browsers naturally have no use whatever for decorative initials, but remember that the first line does have a special function in the information structure of a page or a site. It can be addressed by a script. A table of contents could thus be compiled from all the first lines in a collection of web pages, indexing either by titles or first lines. If there is sufficient interest, we later plan to post links to JavaScript harvesters that ease the collection or large numbers of headings or first lines in HTML document collections.

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Examples: • SimpleWrappingRhymeSonnetCadenceCascadeStanzasCaesura