How to Quote Poems

When you quote a single line of a poem (or part of a line), simply enclose it in quotation marks as you would for any other quote.

If you are quoting two or three lines, mark the line breaks with a slash. Put a space before and after the slash. Be sure to use the same punctuation, capitalization, and punctuation as in the original text.

“Deep in the grounds of a burned-out hotel / Between the bathtubs and the sinks / A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole” (Mahon).
If a line break occurs between lines, use a double slash.

“They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith. // They ask us, you see, in their wordless way, / To do something, to speak on their behalf” (Mahon).
If you quote more than three lines of poetry, set them out as a block quote. Start the quotation on a new line, indented one-half inch from the left margin, without quotation marks, and add the line breaks to the quotation.
Mahon’s poem begins with a series of images of eerily abandoned spaces:
Even now there are places where a thought might grow -.

Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned
To a slow clock of condensation,
An echo forever caught, and a fluttering
Of wildflowers in the elevator shaft

When quoting poetry, keep the formatting as close to the original as possible. If there is unusual spacing, reproduce that in the blockquote.

GWG in-text citations for poems

When citing a poem, clearly indicate the poet’s last name so the reader can find the source in the works cited list. If you cite more than one poem by the same author, you must also mention the title of the poem you are citing.

Normally, you name the poet and the title in the main text when you introduce the quotation. If not, or if there is confusion about which poem you are referring to, include the author’s name and/or title in a parenthetical citation after the quotation.

Line – and page numbers in parentheses

Sometimes poems are published with line numbers in the margin. In this case, use the line numbers in your in-text citation to locate the quotation more precisely. Use the word “line” or “lines” in the first quotation, but only the numbers in subsequent quotations.

“What are the roots, the clutch, what branches grow / From this stony garbage?”(Eliot, lines 19-20).
If line numbers do not appear in the source, do not count them manually. If the poem is published on multiple pages, use the page number instead.

“One day they will hold you gently in the palms of their hands, as if you were the last raw egg in the world” (Angelou 132).

If page numbers are not available (for example, when accessing a poem on a website) or if the poem appears on a single page of published text, you need only include the poet’s name.

“For a human animal to call for help / on another animal / is the riven most indignant cry on earth” (Rich).

If you have already mentioned the name (and title, if applicable) when introducing the quotation, and there are no line or page numbers, no parenthetical citation is necessary.

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MLA Works Cited entry for a poem.

In the works cited entry, begin with the poet’s name followed by the title of the poem in quotation marks. Then add details of the source in which the poem was published. Usually follow the format of an MLA book citation or an MLA website citation.

Poem in a book
If the poem is from a collection of the poet’s work, add the name of the book in italics.the publisher; the year; and the page or page range on which the poem appears.

Rich, Adrienne. “Fox. Fox: Poems 1998-2000, W. W. Norton & Company, 2001, p. 25.

Poem in an anthology.

If the poem was published as part of an edited collection, follow the same format as above, but add the names of the book’s editors.
Heaney, Seamus. “Funeral Rites. “The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Peter Fallon and Derek Mahon, Penguin Books, 1990, pp. 149-151.

Poem on a website
If you accessed the poem on a website, give the name of the website and the URL. If the website has a publication date, include that; if not, include the date you accessed it. If relevant, you can also add the original publication year right after the poem’s title.

Rich, Adrienne. “Diving into the Wreck.” 1978. poet, Accessed 27 July 2019.

Frequently asked questions about citing poems in MLA.

How do I format a poem citation in MLA?
To cite poetry in MLA style, introduce the citation and use quotation marks as you would for any other source citation.

If the quotation contains line breaks, mark them with a slash with a space on either side. Use two slashes to indicate a line break.

If the quote is longer than three lines, set them as an MLA block quote from the main text. Reproduce the line breaks, punctuation, and formatting of the original.

How do I cite a poem in the text in MLA?

An in-text MLA citation should always include the author’s last name, either in the introductory text or in parentheses after a quotation.
If line numbers or page numbers are included in the original source, add them to the citation.
When discussing multiple poems by the same author, be sure to also mention the title of the poem (abbreviated if necessary). The title is enclosed in quotation marks.

Should I include line numbers in an MLA Poetry Citation?

Use line numbers in an MLA in-text citation only if the lines are numbered in the original source. If so, write “lines” in the first citation of the poem and only the numbers in subsequent citations.
If the source does not include line numbers, you can use page numbers instead. If the poem appears on only one page of a book (or on a website), do not include a number in the citation.

How do I cite a poem in an MLA Works cited list?
In the Works Cited list, begin with the poet’s name and the title of the poem in quotation marks. The rest of the citation depends on where the poem was published.

If you are reading the poem in a book or anthology, follow the format of an MLA book chapter. If you accessed the poem online, follow the format of an MLA website citation.

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