How to Cite Poems Found Online in MLA Style

Finding poetry online is easy; documenting it, however, can be tricky. The first step, as with any internet research, is evaluating the source to ensure its validity, particularly by investigating the site’s sponsorship. Once you find a poem online to use in your research, the 7th edition of the Modern Language Association handbook provides clear guidelines for documenting the source.

The Works Cited List

The Works Cited list should include six elements:

  1. The author’s name
  2. The poem title in quotation marks
  3. The website title in italics
  4. The date the poem was posted (in day-month-year order)
  5. The publication medium (Web)
  6. The date you accessed the poem

The MLA does not require use of URLs, or web “addresses,” because they are ephemeral and often unwieldy. If your instructor asks you to include one, place it at the end of the citation in angular brackets followed by a period, like this: <>.

Alphabetize the entire Works Cited list, and use hanging indents so that in every reference, all lines after the first one are indented a half inch.

Here is an example:

Wright, James. “A Blessing.” Poetry Foundation [italics]. 1990. Web. 25 April 2013.

In-Text Citation

When you quote the poem within the paper itself, give the author’s name either when you introduce the reference or in parentheses following. Even if you cite the author’s name within the text, cite the line numbers in the parentheses.

To format a quotation, enclose it in quotation marks and place a slash to designate a change in lines, and retain the original capitalization. Quoting the final two lines of James Wright’s poem “A Blessing,” for instance, would look like this: "... if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom" (Wright 23-24). Note that an ellipsis is used to designate words omitted from the original, and the period goes after the parenthetical citation, not within the quotation marks.

Format a longer quotation, more than three lines of poetry, differently. Indent the entire passage, and retain the original line breaks. Do not use quotation marks around these long, indented quotes, and punctuate them as they are in the original. There is no punctuation after the parentheses. This is how a longer quote from "A Blessing" would look:

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come. They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. There is no loneliness like theirs. (Wright 9-12)

About the Author

Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.

Photo Credits
  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images