How to Cite a Poem: MLA and APA Formatting Quotations
Writing, and all of its connected skills, are essential to succeed in studying — especially humanities. One such skill is the proper use of quotations. To make a quotation means to place the exact words of another author in your essay — these words could be lines from a poem as well.
When to Use Poem Quotes
When is it appropriate to cite a poem? Most often, quotes from poems are used by liberal art students, literature students, and language students. It is hard to imagine writing an essay about a poet without including some pieces of his works, or describing some poetry trend without providing examples. Also, you may find poem lines used in descriptive, reflective, argumentative, and compare and contrast essays.
Nevertheless, even if you are not a humanities student, you are not limited to use poem citations in your works if the meaning of the line(s) you have chosen is relevant. While there are no rules on where you may cite a poem, there are a lot on how you should do it in different formatting styles. Continue reading to find out more about how to cite a poem correctly or simply use professional help.
Citing Poem Quotes in MLA Style
The most popular formatting style is MLA (Modern Language Association). Despite it possibly being the easiest style to use, you will need some time to learn all of the rules, and time to train to apply them.
The rules of citing a poem in MLA style depend on the citation’s length. Quotes up to three lines are considered to be short, and quotes longer than three lines – long.
Citing a Short Quote
- There is no need to start a short quote on a new line; you may write it just between the text.
- Though, it is obligatory to put it in quotation marks.
- If question or exclamation marks are part of the poem, put them inside the quotation marks.; leave them outside if they are a part of your text.
- Use a slash to mark line breaks, or a double slash if there is a stanza break; put a space before and after the slash.
- Start each line of the poem with a capital letter (at the beginning and after the slash marks).
Example: In “Song of Myself”, Walt Whitman wrote, “I exist as I am, that is enough, / If no other in the world be aware I sit content, / And if each and all be aware I sit content.”
Citing a Long Quote
- If you choose a long quote, some rules are just the opposite of how you would properly write a small quote — and you should be really careful not to mix them up.
- Start your quotation from a new line, with a half-inch indent from the left margin.
- Put it in a block quote. Include line breaks in the quote as they are in the original.
- Keep the original formatting and punctuation as part of the author’s style.
- Use double-space spacing inside the quote.
- There is no need for quotation marks or slashes, just skip them.
Example: Emily Dickinson wrote:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
Citing the Title of the Poem
Regardless of the length of a quote, you should clearly indicate the poet’s last name. You should also include the title of the poem if you cite more than one poem by the same author in your work. You may do it in two ways: mention it before the quotation in the main text, or include it in a parenthetical citation at the end of the lines. If you mentioned the name and the title before the quote, but you’re not sure if it will be obvious for the reader, you may repeat it in a parenthetical citation — it won’t be considered as a mistake.
Besides the poet’s last name and the title of the poem, a parenthetical citation should include a line or page number. Here are some brief rules for parenthetical citations:
- If a poem was published with line numbers in the margin, put the line number. Use the word “line”, or “lines”, in the first quotation of your work. Only use numbers in all of the following quotations from the same sources you’ve already quoted.
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)
- If there are no line numbers in the margin, put the page number in parenthetical citation after the poet’s last name instead. Do not use a comma between the poet’s name and page number.
Example: “Your head so much concerned with outer, / Mine with inner, weather.” (Frost 126)
- If you found the poem from a website, or the page numbers are not available for other reasons, don’t put any numbers at all. Leave only the poet’s last name and poem’s title (if required as mentioned above).
Example: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver)
- If you mentioned the poet’s last name and poem’s title before the citation (if required as mentioned above), and you have no lines or page number, don’t make an in-text citation after the quote at all.
Example: Here is what Pablo Neruda wrote about this feeling, “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, / in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
- If you would like to cite the title of the poem not in a parenthetical citation, but inside your text, there are two ways to do it, and it depends on the title’s length. Short poem titles should be cited in quotation marks.
Examples: “A Book”, “Fire and Ice”, or “Nothing Gold can’t Stay”
- Long poem titles should be cited in italics.
Example: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Because I could not Stop for Death.
- Don't forget to write a full reference for each source you use in your Works Cited page at the end of your essay. If the poem citation was taken from a book, it should be made in the following format: Poet’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Poem.” Title of Book: Subtitle (if any), edited by Editor’s First Name Last Name, Edition (if given and is not first), Publisher’s Name (often shortened), Year of Publication, pp. xx-xx.
Examples: Dickinson, Emily. “A Book.” Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems, edited by Anthony Eyre, Mount Orleans Press, 2019, pp. 55-56.
- If the poem citation was taken from a website, it should be made in the following format: Poet’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Poem.” Title of Book: Subtitle (if any), Edition (if given and is not first), Publisher Name (often shortened), Year of Publication, Website Name, URL. Accessed Access Date.
Example: Frost, Robert. “Fire and Ice”. Poetry Foundation, https://poetryfoundation.org/poems/44263/fire-and-ice. Accessed 28 Nov. 2019.
How to Cite a Poem in APA Style?
APA is the abbreviation for American Psychological Association, and is the second most popular formatting style — used mainly in social studies. Here are some APA rules for poem citations that you need to know:
- For poem quotes up to 40 words (short quotes), using quotation marks is obligatory.
- You don’t have to start a short quote from a new line.
- Line breaks in short quotes should be marked by a slash.
- Block citations should be used for quotes longer than 40 words (long quotes).
- You have to start a block citation from a new line.
- Do not use quotation marks for block citations
- Block quotations should be indented 1.3 cm from the left margin, and in double-space formatting.
A Short Quote Example: Robert Frost, in his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”
A Long Quote Example: Here is how Emily Dickinson describes the meaning of a book:
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! 2019.
If your quote is taken from a book, a full reference to the source in the Works Cited page (in APA style) should be made according to the following template: Poet’s Last Name, First Initial. (Year). Poem title. In Editor Initial. Last Name (Ed.), Book title (pp. xx-xx). Location: Publisher.
Example: Dickinson, E. (2019). A book. A. Eyre (Ed.), Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems (pp.55-56). Cricklade, U.K.: Mount Orleans Press.
If a quotation was taken from a website, the following template should be used: Poet’s Last Name, First Initial. (Year, Month Day). Poem title. Retrieved from http://WebAddress.
Example: Dickinson, E. (2019, November 28). I'm Nobody! Who are you? Retrieved from https://poets.org/poem/im-nobody-who-are-you-260.
Tips and Tricks on How to Cite a Poem
Here are a few recommendations on how to format poem quotations properly. They will be useful whether or not you are a beginner or advanced user of poem citations, regardless of what formatting style you are using.
- Read the whole poem to be sure you understand the meaning of the citation and author’s message correctly. Then, decide which lines can be used as a quote for your work.
- Write a few words about: why you chose the lines from your poem, their message, and what their connection is with your essay topic.
- Do not overuse quotations in your work. You may also paraphrase, instead of quoting, in order to share other’s views. Moreover, it is your own work and you shouldn’t rely on others’ words the whole time.
- There is no need to cite the entire poem if you need a few lines in the beginning and a few in the end. Omit middle lines that you don’t need (use ellipses to point out that you will skip words), or create two quotations that connect with your text between them.
- Use embedded quotes. These are quotes that are implemented as a part of your sentence. You may put it at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of your sentence. The idea is to make it an organic part of your text. Example: As well as Robert Frost, at first “I hold with those who favor fire”.
- When citing a specific source (periodicals or a website perhaps), check the specifics on how to cite it in MLA or another format — as there are some particularities we didn’t have time to cover.
- Together with the final review of your essay, proofread your cited quotes for both: appropriate usage, and correct formatting.