How to Cite a Poem Reference in MLA Style

As much as we all wish we wrote the words that Robert Frost did, unfortunately, we did not. However, you can honor this poet’s last name by citing his work on your own. 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 Modern Language Association (MLA) cited works than APA style, so be sure you understand the differences between them. Below, we follow the latest style suggested by the ninth edition of the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers."

The Use of Poetry Citations

Whether you are referencing or paraphrasing a line of poetry, it is always important to give attribution. Citing your sources avoids plagiarism, and allows for outside use of other editors and authors.

Here are information to gather for MLA style guide:

  • Author’s last name
  • Editor’s name
  • Publication year
  • Publisher name
  • Year of publication
  • Line numbers

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.

Key features of MLA Style Poem Reference Citations

  • New Line​: Start a poetry quotation on a new line, indented half an inch from the left margin with no quotation marks.
  • Day Month Year​: Use a consistent and spelled out date format like 6 January 2021 or January 6, 2021
  • Book Title​: Use in your MLA citation like: Author Surname, First Name, “Poem Title.” Book Title, Publisher, Year, Page numbers.
  • Double Space​: Use double-space spacing for each line.
  • Annotated Bibliography:
  • Block Quotations and Block Quote​: A multi-line quote of poetry should be set apart using indentation, reproducing any unusual spacing as much as possible.
  • Comma​: Citing multiple page numbers should be separated with a comma. For example, page “3, 14”
  • Double Slash​: //
  • Ellipses​: … are used to indicate missing text in between a quote, brackets are not needed around ellipses.
  • Indent​: Indent a half-inch for MLA citations. For long quotations, remember to use a blockquote.
  • Italics​: A slanted font is in italics. Remember to use the name of a Poet’s book in italics.

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