How to Cite a Poem in MLA

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When writing a research essay, you may want to include poetry. It can be difficult to know how to cite a poem properly since it’s a particular type of resource that can be found online, in a book, or in an anthology.

This page contains everything you need to know to cite a poem in MLA style within your paper and on your reference page, as well as how to properly quote poems of different lengths within your paper. This page also contains information on creating your citations, formatting examples, and what details you need to compile before you can begin.

This guide follows rules established in the MLA Handbook, 9th edition, but is not officially associated with the Modern Language Association.

What You Need

Before you can create your poem citation, you will need to gather information on your source. If available, find:

  1. Poet’s first and last name
  2. Line, page number, or page range
  3. Title of the poem
  4. Year of the original and/or source publication
  5. Name of the publication the poem is in such as the:
    1. Title of the book of poetry it’s in
    2. Title of the website it’s on
    3. Title of the anthology it’s in
  6. Name of the publishing company or website publisher
  7. URL (if applicable – online sources only)
  8. Editor(s) first and last name(s) (if applicable – anthologies only)

Citing a Poem Found Online 

Since poems can come from multiple sources, there are a few basic formats you can follow to create a citation. The formatting guidelines are different depending on where you found the poem. This section contains the basic format for any poetry you found online, including if it’s a PDF from another source.

Basic format:

Poet’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of the Poem.” Year of poem’s original publication (if available). Title of the Website, Name of Website Publisher, URL. Accessed day month year.

Example:

Frost, Robert. “Birches.” 1969. Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44260/birches. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Begin the citation with the poet’s last name, with the first letter capitalized. Follow the last name with a comma and then the poet’s first name, also with a capitalized first letter. Follow the first name with a period.
  2. Put the title of the poem in quotation marks. Place a period after the title of the poem within the quotation marks. The title of the poem should be capitalized in title case (using capital letters only at the beginning of principal words).
  3. Put the numerical year of the poem’s original publication. You may have to do research beyond your online source for the poem to find this information. Follow the numerical year with a period.
  4. Put the title of the website in italics. Be sure to use title case capitalization here again. Follow the website title with a comma.
  5. Put the name of the website publisher in normal text (not italicized), using title case capitalization. Follow with a comma.
  6. Put the URL for your web source, without including https:// at the beginning. Follow the URL with a period.
  7. Write the word “Accessed” (with a capital A, without the quotation marks) followed by the date you looked up the web resource. The format for the date should be: the numerical day, capitalized and spelled-out month, and full numerical year. Be sure to place a period after the year to end your citation. The date should not include commas. So, for example, if the date you accessed your web source was March 12, 2020, you would finish your citation with “Accessed 12 Mar. 2020.” The access date is supplemental and may not always need to be included.

Citing a Poem from a Book

The formatting guidelines for citing a poem from a book are different from the guidelines for citing a poem found online. Note that anthologies have their own citation format. An anthology is a collection of works from different authors. This section contains the basic guidelines for citing a poem from a book. The format for anthologies is provided in the next section.

Basic Format: 

Poet’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of the Poem.” Title of the Book, Name of Publishing Company, Year of publication, page number or page range.

Example:

Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Robert Frost Selected Poems, Fall River Press, 2011, p. 25.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Begin the citation with the poet’s last name, with the first letter capitalized. Follow the last name with a comma and then the poet’s first name, also with a capitalized first letter. Follow the first name with a period.
  2. Put the title of the poem in quotation marks. Place a period after the title of the poem within the quotation marks. The title of the poem should be capitalized in title case (using capital letters only at the beginning of principal words).
  3. Put the title of the book where you read the poem in italics and title case, followed by a comma.
  4. Put the name of the publishing company in normal text (not italicized) as it is capitalized in the book, followed by a comma. This should be in title case since it is a proper noun. You do not need to include the location of the publisher.
  5. Put the numerical year of the book’s publication (which may be different from the year of the poem’s original publication), followed by a comma.
  6. Provide the page number(s) for the poem you are citing using “p.” or “pp.” and the page number or page range. For example, if the poem is on page 26, put p. 26. If the poem spreads across two or more pages, use “pp.” For example, if the poem is from page 26-29, put pp. 26-29. Follow the page number with a period to end your citation.

Citing a Poem from an Anthology

The guidelines for citing a poem from an anthology are different from the guidelines for citing a poem found online or even in a poetry book. An anthology is a compilation of different works from different authors or artists. The following format is for poems from an anthology.

Basic Format for a poem in an anthology: 

Poet’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of the Poem.” Title of Anthology, edited by Editor’s First and Last Name, edition (if applicable), volume (if applicable), Publisher, year of anthology publication, page number or page range.

Example:

Drummond, William. “Life.” The Giant Book of Poetry, edited by William Roetzheim, Level4Press Inc, 2006, p. 55.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Begin the citation with the poet’s last name, with the first letter capitalized. Follow the last name with a comma and then the poet’s first name, also with a capitalized first letter. Follow the first name with a period.
  2. Put the title of the poem in quotation marks. Place a period after the title of the poem within the quotation marks. The title of the poem should be capitalized in title case (using capital letters only at the beginning of principal words).
  3. Put the title of the anthology where you found the poem in italics and title case, followed by a comma.
  4. Put the words “edited by” (without using quotation marks) and the full first and last name of the editor(s), capitalizing the first letters of the first and last names. Do not use italics.
    1. For two editors, separate the names with the word “and” rather than an ampersand.
    2. For three or more editors, use commas to separate each editor’s name, using “and” only between the last two editors.
  5. If applicable to the anthology, include the book’s edition (e.g., 4th ed.) followed by a comma.
  6. If applicable to the anthology, include the book’s volume number (e.g., vol. 2) followed by a comma.
  7. Put the name of the publishing company in normal text (not italicized) as it is capitalized in the anthology, followed by a comma. You do not need to include the location of the publisher.
  8. Put the numerical year of the book’s publication (which may be different from the year of the poem’s original publication), followed by a comma.
  9. Provide the page number(s) for the poem you are citing using “p.” or “pp.” and the page number or page range. For example, if the poem is on page 26, put p. 26. If the poem spreads across two or more pages, use “pp.” For example, if the poem is from page 26-29, put pp. 26-29. Follow the page number with a period to end your citation.

In-Text Citations

Unlike the reference page citations, MLA in-text citations for poems are generally the same regardless of the source. The examples below follow Sections 6.22 and 6.36 from the Handbook.

For in an-text citation, all you need to provide is:

  1. The poet’s last name
  2. The line number(s) or page number of the poem you are referencing

Format:

(Poet’s Last Name, line(s) #-#)

Example:

(Chaucer, lines 6-10)

If you state the author’s name within the sentence, you may just include the line numbers in parentheses instead of repeating the author’s name in the in-text citation. If no line numbers for the poem exist, do not count the lines yourself. Instead, include a page number.

Example:

As stated by Chaucer, “Thoght ye to me ne do no daliance” (line 8).

Quoting Up to Three Lines of Poetry

Using a direct quote from a poem is different from making a reference to a poem within your paper. To use a direct quote, you must put it in quotation marks.

To quote anything from a partial line of poetry up to three lines of poetry, you can simply use quotations and a “/” symbol to separate the lines, with a space on either side of the slash. Following the in-text citation guidelines in the section above, place your in-text citation at the end of your quote in parentheses, after the closing quotation marks and before the period.

Example:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference” (Frost, lines 18-20).

OR

In Robert Frost’s poem, he states, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference” (lines 18-20).

Quoting Four or More Lines of Poetry

If you’d like to directly quote four or more lines of poetry within your paper, you will need to follow different guidelines than the ones above for three or fewer lines of poetry. When quoting four or more lines of poetry, you will not use quotation marks. Here are more formatting guidelines:

  • In most cases, you will use a colon (:) at the end of the sentence before you begin your direct quote from the poem.
  • After the sentence introducing the quote, leave an empty line before beginning the quote.
  • You must separate a long quote from the rest of your paper by using a half-inch indent from the left throughout the quote.
  • Instead of using a “ / ” to separate the lines of poetry, try to follow the original format of the poem as closely as possible.
  • If a line is too long to fit across the page, use a hanging indent, so that the remainder of the line is more indented than the rest of the block quote.
  • Place your in-text citation in parentheses at the end of the quote, following the last period (or other punctuation) of the quote and without punctuation after the closing parentheses. If the citation will not fit on the line, add it to the following line on the right-hand side of the page.

Example:

The poem describes choices in life by using the metaphor of a fork in the road:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; (Frost, lines 1-5)


Work Cited

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.


Published October 21, 2013. Updated May 18, 2021.

Written by Grace Turney. Grace is a former librarian and has a Master’s degree in Library Science and Information Technology. She is a freelance author and artist.


 

 

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