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How to Cite a Poem Reference in MLA Style


You may be required to write about poetry for your high school or college courses. Citing poetry is very similar to citing other texts, but there are some key differences in order to correctly follow the style set down in the seventh edition of the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers."

In-Text Citation

In-text citation of poetry is similar to in-text citation of other texts in MLA Style: place quotation marks around the parts of the text you wish to quote, followed by the author's last name and page number, if available, in parentheses. One key difference with citing poetry is that you must use a forward slash to represent where the line breaks are in the poem. Here is an example of citing an online text of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner: "Water, water every where, / Nor any drop to drink" (Coleridge).

The exception to this use of the forward slash is if you are citing over three lines of poetry. If you are citing over three lines of poetry, you must keep the format as close to the original as possible, and you do not need to use quotation marks around the longer quote. You also must place the punctuation outside of the parentheses. Here is an example citing four lines:

Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. (Coleridge)

Works Cited Page Citation

To cite a poem in the Works Cited page that is part of a collection of poems, simply follow the format for a work in an anthology or collection. The title of the poem will be in quotation marks after the author name, for example: Whitman, Walt. "Starting from Paumanok." Leaves of Grass. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1897.18-28. Print.

If the poem is long and published as a single volume, treat it as you would a book, for example: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Rime of the Ancient Mariner. New York: Appleton & Co., 1857. Print.

For digital and web sources, treat the poem as you would an article, for example: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Knarf. University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. 5 May 2013.

About the Author

Dr. Chris Snellgrove is a writing specialist, and a veteran of everything from a book-length dissertation to a newspaper editor's desk. He has produced work for academic, business, creative, and non-profit endeavors.

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