MLA formatting 101: How to cite a poem

If you’re writing a literary analysis about a poem, or just writing an essay and decide that you want to write about a poem, you will find that quoting a poem is not quite the same as quoting a sentence from an article. We have gathered everything you need to know about how to cite a poem.

How to cite a poem

Poems are often published as part of a collection of poems, either a book or a literary journal or magazine. As such, citing a poem is pretty similar to citing an article. It should appear like this in your Works Cited page: Plath, Sylvia. “Ariel.” Ariel, Harper & Row Publishers, 1966, pp. 26-27. Note the following:

  • The last name of the author should appear before the first name.
  • The title of the poem is enclosed in quotation marks.
  • The title of the collection of poems is italicized. The larger work should always be italicized.

However, if the poem appears in an anthology, it should be cited like this: Shakespeare, William. “Young Love.” The Book of Elizabethan Verse, edited by William Stanley Braithwaite, Herbert B. Turner & Co., 1907. Note the following:

  • The first line should be hanging by half an inch. This is standard MLA formatting.
  • Since the poem appears in an edited book, the editor of the book should be included after the title of the said book. The phrase “edited by” precedes the editor’s name so as to indicate his role. So, if he were the translator, his name would be preceded by “translated by.”

Nowadays, there are websites dedicated to publishing poetry. You may cite them like this: Angelou, Maya. “Phenomenal Woman” from Still, I Rise, Random House, 1978, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48985/phenomenal-woman. Accessed 9 June 2018.

  • Notice that the poem is cited in the same way as the others, with its publication details. However, the website where you accessed a copy, as well as the access date, must also be included.

How to quote a poem

Citing a poem and quoting a poem often goes hand-in-hand. So, now that you know how to cite a poem, let’s proceed to quoting a poem. If you will mention the poem in the essay followed by your own commentary or thoughts, the title should still be enclosed in quotation marks: In Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel,”… “Ariel” is one of Plath’s most popular poems. But if you will quote a part of the poem:

  • Single line

Maya Angelou opens “Phenomenal Woman” with the line “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.” Through this ...

  • Multiple lines

Angelou shows the narrator’s confidence by repeating the lines “Phenomenal woman / That’s me.” Angelou shows the narrator’s confidence by repeating the lines “I’m a woman / Phenomenally. // Phenomenal woman / That’s me.” 

Note:

  • A single slash is used to show a line break, while two slashes (//) is used to show a stanza break.
  • Long quotations

As with essays, if you are going to cite more than four lines of poetry, it will become a block quote: I say, It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Note the following:

  • The quote is indented half an inch from the left margin.
  • It is no longer enclosed in quotation marks.
  • It is double-spaced, but original line breaks are maintained.
  • Additional note: if the lines extend to another page, you may include the page number with the last line (in parenthesis).

If you are going to omit a word or a part of a line in your quote, use an ellipsis. However, if you will omit an entire line or more, use periods to the length of a line: Now you understand Just why my head’s not bowed. ………………………………………… When you see me passing, It ought to make you proud. There are many ways of how to cite a poem, but as you can see, there is a pattern. Keep these in mind (or in your browser’s bookmarks!) to make writing a literary analysis easier. For more on MLA formatting, go here. Should you need further assistance, don’t hesitate to ask us.

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