[Style] Untitled Poem Naming Guideline

I’d like to propose we establish a guideline for poems that are untitled. These often include miscellaneous prayers, epitaphs, lyrics, epigrams, etc.

Untitled poems

For an untitled poem, enclose the first line of the poem, followed by an ellipsis (…), within quotation marks. Maintain the capitalization of the text of the poem; do not apply capitalization rules. Include any punctuation within the line, but omit any trailing comma (,) or period (.).

The sort name of an untitled poem should be identical to the name, regardless of whether it begins
with a grammatical article.


  • “The twilight turns from amethyst…”
  • “Dear heart, why will you use me so?…”
  • “Step lightly, stranger: here Jerome B. Cox…”

The use of the ellipsis is intended to distinguish untitled poems from poem titles that are explicitly enclosed in quotations by the author.

Feedback appreciated.


Good idea, there was an earlier approach, see this thread:
Adding poems

I have added already hundreds of untitled poems and I’ve used one of the most common ways, the [first line] form. See for example Rilke:

The sort name will be without brackets.

I wouldn’t use quotation marks because a lot of poems use them in the title, e.g. :slight_smile:

where the title is meant as a quote (of a folk song in this case")

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Thanks, indy133 for the reply. I’m hesitant to use [brackets], but this could be baggage from MB editing, where they were reserved for title descriptions, like [untitled], [unknown], [data track], [Release Name, Part X], [silence], [traditional], [classical music], [nature sounds], [news report] etc. I’m not sure it’s applicable in BB though…


Please don’t scare me! :worried:
I have been using these brackets for more than 2 years now and Mr, Monkey didn’t intervene when I suggested this approach.
I still have hope, because other databases and large libraries also use the square brackets.


In MusicBrainz the square bracket notation is also used for inofficial titles if there is no proper title available.this seems to be similar to what is proposed here. To me this approach looks useful


OK, it seems like [brackets] is the way to go. So, revising the proposed guideline…

Untitled poems

For a poem that does not have a title, enclose the first line of the poem in square brackets. Maintain the capitalization of the text of the poem; do not apply any capitalization rules. Include any punctuation within the line, but omit trailing punctuation except question and exclamation mark(s).

Make the the sort name of the untitled poem identical to the name, omitting the square brackets. Do not reorder the sort name, regardless of whether it begins with a grammatical article.


  • [The twilight turns from amethyst]
  • [Dear heart, why will you use me so?]
  • [Step lightly, stranger: here Jerome B. Cox]

Does this look about right?


I’ve been thinking about this as well and had the same hang-up that @pbryan mentioned.

A couple notes:

  1. @indy133, you are doing a great job, but BB is pretty green, it really needs to be defined style guide and more relationships — which also affects the style. So, no matter what you do (or any of us do, really) a lot will change in the future, but as long as have one ID per work and it is properly identified, it’s just a matter of updating when needed. Your good work will not be lost.
  2. I too have been using square brackets very much in the same way as MB, but there is no rule about this and these uses should be defined, including [anonymous] and [unknown] as authors, it should be like MB’s special purpose artists.
  3. There are works that have no title but have been numbered by academics, very much like opus numbers in classical music (e.g. Catullus, Emily Dickinson, which is relevant to identifying poems that have no title.)
  4. The issue here may also be a DB issue. BB demands a title for each work, but many works simply don’t have titles. Probably there should be an option to indicate a work has no title.

So I can think of a couple of options:

  • Apply MB’s style: the title should just the word “untitled” in brackets, the first line or other identifying information should be in the disambiguation (text in italics representing the disambiguation), possibly adding the number after comma):
    • [Untitled] (Volcanoes be in Sicily)
    • [Untitled] (Volcanoes be in Sicily, Fr# 1691)
  • Including the first line in the title in sq. brackets separated by a colon, with or without quotation marks:
    • [Untitled: Volcanoes be in Sicily]
    • [Untitled: Volcanoes be in Sicily, Fr# 1691]
    • [Untitled: “Volcanoes be in Sicily”]
    • [Untitled: “Volcanoes be in Sicily” , Fr# 1691]
  • The first line in square brackets, not mentioning the poem is untitled:
    • [Volcanoes be in Sicily]
    • [Volcanoes be in Sicily, Fr# 1691]
  • First line of the poem followed by an ellipsis enclosed in quotation marks:
    • “Volcanoes be in Sicily…”
  • First line of the poem followed by an ellipsis enclosed in quotation marks enclosed in square brackets,̵ ̵e̵n̵c̵l̵o̵s̵e̵d̵ ̵i̵n̵ ̵M̵a̵t̵r̵y̵o̵s̵h̵k̵a̵ ̵d̵o̵l̵l̵:
    • [“Volcanoes be in Sicily…”]
  • Simply using the first line as the title:
    • Volcanoes be in Sicily

Personally, I feel the most “correct” is the first option, not giving a title to a poem that doesn’t have a title; but many poets don’t give titles to their poems, so this could get very confusing. I like the second option, with or without the quotation marks, as a middle ground.I can accept just using the first line in square brackets but can’t help feeling it’s “wrong”.

In any case, I feel there should be an “untitled” checkbox, it should be clear to anyone if what they are seeing is the actual title or not.


I’m popping over from MB, but interested in this because consistency across MeB sites would be ideal.

The square brackets already denote ‘untitled’, so I don’t think it’s necessary to add it again in text.

There are some similar situations in MB which are common enough, and probably obvious enough, to omit the square brackets altogether (e.g. live bootlegs), but that’s not the case here as far as I can tell.


I don’t love it, but if there is consensus for the plain square brackets format, that is far better than my loving it.

Two extra questions:

  • On the issue of opus-like numbers — which is rare, granted, but relevant for a few cases I have in mind, — should these be in the title or disambiguation?
  • This should probably also apply to other untitled works. I’m thinking here of letters or works in fragments, specifically The Book of Disquiet (see fragments here), in which the fragments are also identified by the first sentence or phrase. Certainly there will be other books made up of loose texts, without title. So I would suggest widening the scope guideline, from poems to any untitled works.

(If the date of a letter is known it can be identified by the recipient and date, but otherwise the situation is similar to other untitled works.)