How to cite a poem in MLA

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

An MLA 8 poetry citation must include the poet’s last name, either in the main text or in a parenthetical citation. If line or page numbers are available, add these to the parenthetical citation directly after the quote.

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

MLA poetry citation examples
In-text poetry citationWorks Cited source entry
Line numbers(Eliot, lines 19–20)Eliot, T.S. “The Waste Land.” 1922. Bartleby, www.bartleby.com/201/1.html. Accessed 09 June 2019.
Page numbers(Angelou 132)Angelou, Maya. “Men.” The Complete Collected Poems, Random House, 1994, pp. 132-133.
No numbers(Mahon)Mahon, Derek. “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford.” Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/92154/a-disused-shed-in-co-wexford. Accessed 25 June 2019.

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.

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.

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

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

“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).

If you quote more than three lines of poetry, set them off as a block quote. Start the quotation on a new line, indented half an inch from the left margin, with no quotation marks, and include the line breaks in the quotation.

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

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

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.

Usually 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 and page numbers in parenthetical 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” in the first citation, but only the numbers in subsequent citations.

“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.

“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 numbers available (for example, when accessing a poem on a website), or if the poem appears on a single page of the published text, you only need to include the poet’s name.

“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 name (and, if necessary, the title) when introducing the quotation, and there are no line or page numbers, no parenthetical citation is needed.

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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.

Rich, Adrienne. “Fox.” Fox: Poems 1998–2000, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, p. 25.

Poem in an anthology

If the poem was published as part of an edited collection, follow the same format as above, but add the names of the book’s editors.

Heaney, Seamus. “Funeral Rites.” The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Peter Fallon and Derek Mahon, Penguin Books, 1990, pp. 149-151.

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.

Rich, Adrienne. “Diving into the Wreck.” 1978. Poets, poets.org/poem/diving-wreck. Accessed 27 July 2019.

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Shona McCombes

Shona has an MLitt in English Literature and an MA in Gender Studies, so she's an expert at writing a great master's thesis. She has also been an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

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