How to cite a poem in MLA

When you quote poetry, you have to properly format the quotation and the in-text citation, in order to direct the reader to the correct source entry in the Works Cited list.

Separate lines in a poetry quotation with a slash, and include the poet’s last name either in your text or in parentheses after the quote. To show the location of the quote, include line numbers (if specified in the text) or a page number (if the poem is published across multiple pages).

Quoting and citing poetry in the text

The second stanza begins with an ominous prophetic voice asking “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?” (Eliot, lines 19–20).

In the Works Cited entry, include the full publication details of the source in which you found the poem (e.g. a book or website). You can use our free MLA citation generator to create Works Cited entries and in-text citations.

How to quote poetry in MLA

When you quote a single line of a poem (or part of a line), simply put it in quotation marks as you would for any other quote. For quotations of multiple lines, there are some specific formatting requirements.

2–3 lines

If you quote two or three lines, use a forward slash to mark the line breaks. Put a space before and after the slash. Make sure to use the same punctuation, capitalization, and styling as in the original text.

Poetry quotation with line breaks

Mahon writes that “Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel, / Among the bathtubs and the washbasins / A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.”

If there is a stanza break between the lines, use a double slash.

Poetry quotation with stanza break

A haunting image comes next: “They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith. // They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way, / To do something, to speak on their behalf” (Mahon).

4+ lines

If you quote more than three lines of poetry, set them off as a block quote. Use an introductory sentence ending with a colon, then start the quotation on a new line, indented half an inch from the left margin, with no quotation marks.

When block quoting poetry, include all line breaks in the quotation and keep the formatting as close to the original as possible. If there is any unusual spacing, reproduce this in the block quote.

Poetry block quote

Mahon’s poem opens with a series of images of eerily deserted spaces:

Even now there are places where a thought might grow —
Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned
To a slow clock of condensation,
An echo trapped for ever, and a flutter
Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft

MLA in-text citations for poems

When quoting a poem, the poet’s last name must be clearly stated so that the reader can locate the source in the Works Cited list. If you cite more than one poem by the same author, you also need to mention the title of the poem you are quoting.

Often you will name the poet and title in the main text as you introduce the quote. If not, or if there is any ambiguity about which poem you are referring to, include the author name and/or title in a parenthetical citation after the quote.

Line numbers and page numbers in in-text citations

Sometimes poems are published with line numbers in the margin. In this case, use the line numbers in your in-text citation to more precisely locate the quote. Use the word “line” or “lines” (preceded by a comma) in the first citation, but only the numbers in subsequent citations.

Example: Citing a poem with numbered lines
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?” (Eliot, lines 19–20).

If there are no line numbers displayed in the source, do not count them manually. If the poem is published over multiple pages, use the page number instead.

Example: Citing a poem published on multiple pages
“One day they hold you in the / Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you / Were the last raw egg in the world” (Angelou 132).

If there are no page or line numbers available (for example, when accessing a poem on a website), or if the poem appears on a single page of the published text, without line numbers, you only need to include the poet’s name.

Example: Citing a poem with no line or page numbering
“For a human animal to call for help / on another animal / is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth” (Rich).

If you have already mentioned the author when introducing the quotation, and there are no line or page numbers, no parenthetical citation is needed.

Consecutive citations of the same poem

If you cite the same poem repeatedly within a paragraph, you only need to mention the author’s name in the first citation. Subsequent citations can just consist of line or page numbers (or be omitted entirely if there are no numbers to give), as long as it’s clear from the context that you’re still citing the same poem.

Consecutive citations of the same poem

The second stanza begins with an ominous prophetic voice asking “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?” (Eliot, lines 19–20). The “heap of broken images” (22) referenced in the following lines could be taken for a symbol of the fragmentary structure of the poem itself.

However, give the full citation again if you start a new paragraph or cite another source in between.

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MLA Works Cited entry for a poem

In the Works Cited entry, you start with the poet’s name, followed by the title of the poem in quotation marks. Then include details of the source where the poem was published. Usually you will follow the format of an MLA book citation or an MLA website citation.

Poem in a book

If the poem is from a collection of the poet’s work, add the name of the book in italics; the publisher; the year; and the page or page range on which the poem appears.

Format Author last name, First name. “Poem Title.” Book Title, Publisher, Year, Page number(s).
Works Cited entry Rich, Adrienne. “Fox.” Fox: Poems 1998–2000, W. W. Norton, 2001, p. 25.
In-text citation (Rich)

Poem in an anthology

If the poem was published as part of an edited collection, follow the same format as above, but add the name(s) of the book’s editor(s).

Format Author last name, First name. “Poem Title.” Book Title, edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year, Page number(s).
Works Cited entry Heaney, Seamus. “Funeral Rites.” The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Peter Fallon and Derek Mahon, Penguin Books, 1990, pp. 149–151.
In-text citation (Heaney 150)

Poem on a website

If you accessed the poem on a website, include the name of the website and the URL. If the web page has a publication date, include this; if not, add the date on which you accessed it. If relevant, you can also add the original publication year directly after the poem’s title.

Format Author last name, First name. “Poem Title.” Original publication year. Website Name, Day Month Year, URL.
Works Cited entry Mahon, Derek. “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford.” 1975. Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/92154/a-disused-shed-in-co-wexford. Accessed 25 June 2019.
In-text citation (Mahon)

Frequently asked questions about citing poetry in MLA

How do I format a poetry quotation in MLA?

To quote poetry in MLA style, introduce the quote and use quotation marks as you would for any other source quotation.

If the quote includes line breaks, mark these using a forward slash with a space on either side. Use two slashes to indicate a stanza break.

If the quote is longer than three lines, set them off from the main text as an MLA block quote. Reproduce the line breaks, punctuation, and formatting of the original.

How do I cite a poem in the text in MLA?

An MLA in-text citation should always include the author’s last name, either in the introductory text or in parentheses after a quote.

If line numbers or page numbers are included in the original source, add these to the citation.

If you are discussing multiple poems by the same author, make sure to also mention the title of the poem (shortened if necessary). The title goes in quotation marks.

Should I include line numbers in an MLA poetry citation?

Only use line numbers in an MLA in-text citation if the lines are numbered in the original source. If so, write “lines” in the first citation of the poem, and only the numbers in subsequent citations.

If there are no line numbers in the source, you can use page numbers instead. If the poem appears on only one page of a book (or on a website), don’t include a number in the citation.

How do I cite a poem in an MLA Works Cited list?

In the list of Works Cited, start with the poet’s name and the poem’s title in quotation marks. The rest of the citation depends on where the poem was published.

If you read the poem in a book or anthology, follow the format of an MLA book chapter citation. If you accessed the poem online, follow the format of an MLA website citation.

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Shona McCombes

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10 comments

Derek Wang
September 2, 2021 at 8:30 AM

Do I need to use in text citations for when I am summarizing a poem?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 6, 2021 at 12:29 PM

Hi Derek,

Generally, if you're just summarizing a poem in a sentence you don't need to cite it, since you're not referring to specific parts of the poem. But do include citations for any quotes from the poem or paraphrases of specific parts of it.

Reply

Katy Blevins
March 30, 2021 at 12:20 PM

I need to add in two different poems into my essay. For ex, I am adding Snake by DH Lawrence, I am not referring to a certain line. How would this be cited in my essay?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 6, 2021 at 3:56 PM

Hi Katy,

If you need to cite a poem without referring to a specific line, your in-text citation should just be the author's last name, i.e. "(Lawrence)"

Hope that helps!

Reply

KarinM
February 21, 2021 at 11:14 PM

How do you cite a line of poetry that does not have any punctuation at the end.
Example:
Simmered, bitter and fresh, and no wisdom
Or strength could break it; that agony hung
If I wanted to cite either of these lines how would I punctuate them?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 23, 2021 at 2:19 PM

Hi Karin,

If you wanted to cite both lines, you would add a slash between them, i.e.: "Simmered, bitter and fresh, and no wisdom / Or strength could break it; that agony hung"

Other punctuation you might add would depend on the structure of your sentence. If a comma or period is required grammatically following the quotation, you would add it within the quotation marks. For example: The poet writes "that agony hung," creating an image of …

Note that if a citation is placed immediately after the quote, the following comma or period comes after the citation, not within the quotation marks. For example: The poet writes "that agony hung" (Beowulf 17).

You can read more about punctuation within quotations here and about general comma placement here.

Reply

Antony
February 8, 2021 at 4:04 AM

How do I quote a poem if they're two different poems but from the same author?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 9, 2021 at 3:49 PM

Hi Antony,

To cite multiple poems from the same author, you can add (a shortened version of) the relevant poem's title in each citation to distinguish between them, as shown here. For a poem, the title usually appears in quotation marks, without italics.

Reply

Saleh
April 22, 2021 at 6:50 PM

Hello, I have a question!
If I quote a bulk of a poem, 9 lines to be specific where I put the author's name and the line number?
Thanks

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 27, 2021 at 2:40 PM

Hi Saleh,

With a quote of that length, you'd present it as a block quotation, as shown in the article here. Then the author's name and line number would appear in parentheses at the end of the last line, after any closing punctuation. So for example:

What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? (Blake, lines 20–24)

Reply

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