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How to Cite the Line Numbers of a Poem in an Essay


When you quote poetry in an essay, cite by using line numbers rather than the page number as you would for a novel. Because the citation itself can also change depending on length and format of the poem, this may seem daunting at first. However, by following the guidelines found in the 7th Edition of the MLA handbook, you will be able to properly quote poetry in future essays.

Short Quotations

When quoting poetry three lines or fewer, keep the quote within the normal margins of your essay. For a single line of poetry, obey the same rules as any other MLA quotation. For two or three lines of poetry, denote a line break by putting a slash in between each line, with a space both preceding and following it. Place the parenthetical citation after the second quotation mark and before the period or closing punctuation. Your citation should include the line numbers, with a dash in between two lines. For example:

In Plath's "Morning Song," the speaker compares her child to a "New statue. / In a drafty museum" (4-5).

Block Quotations

When quoting more than three lines of poetry, remove the quotation marks and place the text in a free-standing block, starting on a new line. Keep the poem's original line breaks and formatting as close to the original as possible. The entire quote should be indented one inch from the left margin. Place the parenthetical citation on the outside of the period or closing punctuation mark.

Epic Poetry

In an epic poem, the title is underlined or italicized like a book, rather than in quotes. In the in-text citation, place the number of the book or canto before the line number(s), followed by a period.

Works Cited

Cite the poem in its entirety in your Works Cited. The poet's last name comes first. The title will be in quotes if you are citing a short poem; for an epic poem, it will be italicized. If the poem is from an anthology, type its title in italics, followed by "Ed." and then the editor's name. Next, write the place of publication, publishing company, year of publication and the page or pages on which the poem appears, followed by "Print." For example:

Achebe, Chinua. “Uncle Ben’s Choice.” The Seagull Reader: Literature. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: Norton, 2005. 23–27. Print.

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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