You are in the right place if you have been struggling online trying to discover how to quote and cite a poem in an MLA essay. You might have heard your professor say that quoting a poem in MLA means introducing the quote and using quotation marks, as you would for any other source. But how do you do that correctly when the quote includes line breaks? Let us look at this comprehensive guide to citing a poem in an MLA paper.
In this post, you will discover all the information you need to know to quote and cite poems correctly as per the MLA stylebook.
Before you learn how to quote and cite a poem, it is vital to learn when it is necessary to do so. You should only quote a poem in your essay:
You should only quote a poem in your essay when it is necessary. Quoting lines upon lines of a poem in your essay to boost the word count will not do you much good.
Most professors will be annoyed when they notice you have done this in your essay. And this usually leads only to an average or lower grade. Therefore, quote a poem only when absolutely necessary.
You will know it is necessary to quote a poem when quoting a poem adds value to your paper. If you genuinely believe quoting a poem enhances your paper in one way or another, you should do it.
It would help if you quoted a poem to support your arguments. There are situations where you cannot write your essay correctly without quoting a poem.
For example, when you analyze a poem in your essay, you must quote it several times. This will help show the reader what you are talking about. In other words, it will help you to support your arguments.
Now that you know when to quote a poem in an essay, it is time to discover how exactly to do so. The information we share below will show you how to quote a poem in MLA.
There are different rules for quoting just a single line of poetry, two or three lines, and for quoting four or more lines.
Quoting a single line of poetry in an MLA essay is easy. You need to put it in double quotes. This is how you would quote a single line of anything else in your MLA essay. So nothing is challenging about it.
Putting a single line of poetry in your MLA essay without enclosing it with double quotation marks will make it difficult for your professor to know you are quoting something.
And do not for a moment think that italicizing a line of poetry can work in lieu of the double quotation marks. It cannot work since it is not how the MLA stylebook requires you to quote a single line of poetry.
Examples of how to quote a single line of poetry:
Quoting two or three lines of poetry is a bit more complex than quoting just one. This is because two or three lines of poetry will need something to tell the reader they are moving to the next line.
So how do you do it? Write two or three lines of poetry and enclose them with double quotation marks. Then use the forward slash symbol "/" to show the transition from one line to the next. The symbol should be preceded and followed by space.
If the lines you are quoting are from two different stanzas, use the double forward slash symbol "//" to show the transition from one stanza to the next.
One important thing to remember when quoting a chunk of poetry in your essay is that you should always retain the same styling, capitalization, and punctuation as in the original poem. Do not adjust or rewrite anything to make it sound better or more correct.
Examples of how to quote two to three lines of poetry:
How you quote four or more lines of poetry differs from how you quote three or fewer lines of poetry. It is different because when you quote four or more lines of poetry, you must quote them as a block.
Here is how exactly to quote four or more lines of poetry. First, introduce the quote or provide the reader with some context on the quote you will unleash to them. Second, put a colon at the end of the sentence to show a quote is coming.
Third, create a line break (a new line) and press the "Tab" this will indent your quote (0.5-inch from the left margin) and distinguish it from the rest of your writing. Lastly, quote the poem you wanted to quote without adding any quotation marks.
Example 1 of how to quote four or more lines of poetry:
Langston Hughes' poem opens with a couple of rhetorical questions:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Example 2 of how to quote four or more lines of poetry
Maya Angelou's inspiring poem offers words of encouragement to the downtrodden:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Example 3 of how to quote four or more lines of poetry
The poet John Donne, in his thought-inspiring poem, reveals the deep connection we have to humanity:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
You now know how exactly to quote a poem in an MLA essay. It is now to discover how to cite a poem in MLA. Citing is not the same thing as quoting. It is more complex. Check the section below to understand.
When you name, discuss, mention, or refer to a poem, it is best to cite it so that your reader can read more about it if they want to. Failure to properly cite a poem or any other work you use or discuss in your essay is wrong and is considered academic dishonesty. It will make your essay look like it is missing something and reduce your chances of getting an excellent grade (professors do not like poorly cited essays).
When citing a poem in your essay, you must cite it in-text and on the reference page.
Citing a poem in-text has a few rules that you need to follow. The most important rule is clearly stating the author's last name. The purpose of doing this is to enable the reader to quickly locate the author of the work and the associated source on your references page.
Follow the rules below to cite any poem in-text in your MLA essay properly.
You can find a poem on a website or a published text without any lines or page numbers. The correct way to cite it is only by the author's last name. Do not count the lines or the pages manually for your in-text citation.
Example of how to cite a poem with no line numbers or page numbers
"Every man is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main." (Donne)
Sometimes poems are published with line numbers on the side. This is often true in official poem collections. When you quote or talk about a poem with line numbers in your essay, your in-text citation must show the exact lines you have quoted or are talking about.
Your citation should begin with the author's last name followed by a comma and the exact lines you have quoted or are discussing. Once you cite a poem with line numbers in this manner, put line numbers only in parentheses in subsequent references to the same poem.
Example of how to cite a poem with line numbers
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could travel both" (Frost, lines 1-2).
A poem can be published over several pages. If a poem is published over several pages but without line numbers, you should provide an in-text citation referencing the exact page number you have quoted or are talking about.
Your citation should begin with the author's last name and the page number. Unlike in the case of line numbers, you are not supposed to put a comma between the poet's last name and the page number.
Example of how to cite a poem with page numbers
"For they sweet love remembered such wealth brings, / That, then I scorn to change my state with kings." (Shakespeare 38).
When you cite a poem severally in the same paragraph, you don't need to repeat the entire in-text citation over and over again. You need to put only the line number or page number you are referring to in parentheses.
Example of how to cite a poem consecutively in the same paragraph
"And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could"
Every poem you cite in-text should have the full citation on your references page. How you reference a poem on the references page depends on the source.
Poems can be found in many places (e.g., online, in a book, or in an anthology). The way you cite a poem you've found online is not the same you cite a poem you've found in a book.
When you find a poem online or on a website, there is a way you need to cite it. You must begin with the author's last name and then their first name. You need to follow the poet's name with the poem's name in parentheses. Check out the format below.
Online citation format:
Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title." Year of publication. Title of the website, Website Publisher, Link. Accessed day month year.
Online citation example:
Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 29." 1609. Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45090/sonnet-29-when-in-disgrace-with-fortune-and-mens-eyes. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
When you find a poem in a book, there are rules you need to follow in citing it. The first two elements of the citation (the name and the title of the poem, will be formatted the same way as when citing a poem from an online source. The other elements are different, so the formatting is a bit different. Check out the format below.
Book citation format
Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title." Book Title, Publisher. Year of publication, Page number/range.
Book citation example
Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 29." William Shakespeare Poem Collection, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 32.
An anthology is a collection of poems from different authors. How you cite a poem from an anthology is not the same way you cite a poem from a book with poems from solely one author. Use the format below to cite a poem from an anthology.
Anthology citation format
Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of Work." Anthology Collection, edited by (first name and last name), edition (if applicable), volume (if applicable), Publisher, year of anthology publication, page number or page range.
Anthology citation example:
Hughes, William. "Dark Oceans." Collection of Modern South African Poems, edited by John Moore, Cape Town University Press, 2009, p. 77.
If you made it this far, you are now conversant with how to quote poems in an MLA paper. You can now comfortably cite poems from different sources. We hope that the information we have shared with you should make it easy for you to quote and cite poems easily in your MLA essays.
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