How to Insert a Poem Into an Essay

If you are writing essays about poetry or utilizing poems to illustrate a point in a research paper, you must cite poems in the correct form. There are many rules for citing poems, including the proper format for line breaks, line numbers and inserting a few stanzas or a longer passage. Learning the rules is simple and will ensure the technical aspect of the poem in the paper is well-executed.

Short Excerpts

To insert a poem segment composed of three lines or fewer into an essay, write an introductory statement that places the lines in context of the thesis, followed by a colon. Place the excerpt in the body of the essay. Use forward slashes to separate each line. Place numbers in parentheses at the end to cite the particular lines.

For example, a short excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" would appear as:

"And bore her away from me/ To shut her up in a sepulchre/ In this kingdom by the sea" (18-20).

Long Passages

Insert a longer poetry passage that includes four or more lines as a separate, indented section in an essay. Indent the excerpt 10 spaces from the left margin on each line. In this format, slashes are no longer necessary to separate lines.

An example of a passage from John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" follows:

      Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
      Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
      Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
      Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
      Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave (11-16)


In the body of an essay, ellipses indicate that a segment of a sentence is missing. This rule also applies to poetry excerpts. However, when you remove a section of text from the beginning of a poetry line, replace the missing section with a lengthy indention, rather than ellipses. If the missing words are in the center or end of the line, ellipses are necessary. When an entire line is omitted within the poetry passage, a line of ellipses replaces the missing line.

These rules are illustrated in the following passage from Sharon Olds's "Still Life in Landscape":

                                        Not the person
      my father had recently almost run over,
      who had suddenly leapt away from our family
      she was not I, she was not my mother,
      but maybe she was a model of the mortal,
      the elements ranged around her on the tar—
      glass, bone, metal, flesh ... (19-26)

Single Words

If you cite more than one individual word from a poem to illustrate a point, include its line number from the poem in parentheses at the end.

For example, in Emily Dickenson's "Heaven has different signs -- to me," the words "hills" (6), "orchard" (9), "hills" (10) and "clouds" (12) demonstrate the significance of natural imagery in her poetry.

In a sentence that includes a single word poetry excerpt, include its line number in parenthesis at the end of the sentence, such as:

In "Heaven has different signs -- to me," "rapture" represents the connection between nature and religious experience (13).

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