How to Cite a Sonnet

In an academic paper, you can cite a sonnet -- a 14-line poem with a specific rhyme and rhythm -- like any other poem. The American Academy of Poets notes that sonnets often imitate either the Italian or Shakespearean structure.

In literature and humanities classes, follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) format for the Works Cited (bibliography), using the anthology structure for sonnets included within a book. For citations within the paper, also follow MLA guidelines.

How to Cite a Sonnet

Step 1

Begin with the poet's last name (comma), then the first name (period) to create a Works Cited entry. Follow it with the name of the sonnet in quotation marks (period inside) and the anthology or book title in italics (period), followed by the book's edition (period).

The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides a sample similar to the following:

Keats, John. "When I Have Fears." The Norton Introduction to Literature. 5th ed.

Step 2

Use the abbreviation "Ed." for one editor or "Eds" for multiple editors after the title in an anthology. Do not invert the names. Follow the above entry with this information:

Eds. Carl E. Bain, Jerome Beaty, and J. Paul Hunter.

Double space your citation and create hanging indentation so that the first line "hangs" five spaces over subsequent lines.

Step 3

Complete the citation with the place of publication (colon), publisher (comma) and year (period.) Indicate the page number from the anthology (period) on which the sonnet appears and the type of publication (e.g., Web or Print.) The sample entry includes this information:

New York: W. W. Norton, 1991. 887. Print.

The "887" refers to the page number in the anthology.

Step 4

Cite one line of the sonnet within the paper as you would cite any short quotation. For example, you could write:

John Keats begins his sonnet "When I Have Fears" with this line: "When I have fears that I may cease to be" (887).

Note that the period follows the page number at the end.

Step 5

Cite long sections of a sonnet using the original format. Like any long quotation of more than four lines in MLA, indent one inch on the left and double space. Omit quotation marks, as illustrated in this lengthy quote from John Keats:

      When I have fears that I may cease to be

      Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,

      Before high-piled books, in charactery,

      Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;

      When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,

      Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

      And think that I may never live to trace

      Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance. (887)

For a long citation, the page number follows the period.

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