Writing about Robert Frost? Scribbling about Shakespeare? Then make sure you know how to quote poetry. This is not quite the same as quoting prose, but the rules are easy to understand once you know them. Here, for example, is how to quote and reference a poem in MLA referencing.
How to Quote Poetry in the Text
The format for quoting poetry in MLA depends on how much you are quoting. If it is three lines or fewer, you can quote it in line with the rest of your text. However, you will need to include a forward slash to indicate a line break (or a double slash for a stanza break). For example:
In “For E.J.P.,” he writes “I once believed a single line / in a Chinese poem could change / forever how blossoms fell” (Cohen 1-3).
As you can see, we also cite the poem after we have quoted it. The citation format here follows standard MLA conventions, but you should typically use line numbers rather than page numbers.
For quotes of more than three lines, set it on a new line, without quote marks, and indented from the left margin (like a block quote). For instance:
The poem ends as follows:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (Frost 15-20)
Try to make the layout of the poem as close as possible to the original.
Poem Titles: Italics or Quote Marks?
Another question is how to present poem titles on the page. This depends on the poem’s length. The MLA system suggests:
For shorter poems published as part of a longer work, use quote marks.
For longer poems published as a standalone book, use italics.
This applies when you name a poem in your writing, when listing poems in the Works Cited list, and when using titles within citations (e.g., if you are citing two sources by the same person). So make sure to be consistent!
Poems in a Works Cited List
Finally, we’ll look at how to list poems in your Works Cited list. For single poems published as a standalone book, this is simple: just list it as you would any other book. The same is true when citing a poetry anthology with a single author (though you may need to name the editor, too).
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But for a poem from a mixed anthology (i.e., one containing poems by several authors), the format is like referencing a chapter from an edited book:
Surname, First Name. “Title of Poem.” Title of Anthology, edited by Editor Name(s), Publisher, Year, Page number(s).
Note that we use the actual page numbers for the poem within the container volume here, not line numbers. We would therefore list a print poem in a Works Cited list along the following lines:
Cohen, Leonard. “For E.J.P.” 20th-Century Poets: An Anthology, edited by G. Edwards, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 2012, pp. 59-60.
For a poem found online, you can reference it as if it were a web page:
Surname, First Name. “Title of Poem.” Title of Site/Publishing Organization, date of publication (if available), URL. Date accessed (if required).
Remember that the date here should be when the poem was published online, not when it was originally written. In practice, then, the Works Cited list entry for a poem found online would look like this:
Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” PoemHunter, 20 Oct. 2016, www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-road-not-taken. (Accessed Oct. 19, 2018).
If you are unsure whether to include a date of access, check your style guide or ask your supervisor/professor. And if you’d like someone to check the clarity and consistency of your referencing, our expert editors can help.