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The question “how to cite poems” arises when it comes to specific assignments in literature. For example, when students get a task to analyze assigned poems, they need to use specific quotes to support claims and avoid plagiarism. In this case, formats of citing a poem depend on chosen writing styles. Basically, referencing styles, like MLA, APA, Harvard, and Chicago/Turabian formats, provide different information on it. Therefore, this article covers important aspects of how to cite poems for different formats.

Citing a Poem

Poems may be sources in academic papers. Unlike standard types of papers, structures of poems often require exclusive in-text citations. For example, if someone wants to get the answer to the question of how to cite poems, the American Psychological Association (APA) and Chicago/Turabian referencing styles have no regulations for poetry in-text citations. In turn, Harvard and Modern Language Association (MLA) styles have rules that authors should be conversant with to create correct citations.

How to cite poems

Citing Poems in MLA Style

General In-Text Citation

The format for citing a poem in the MLA format citation is unique when compared to other referencing styles. Ideally, an MLA in-text citation employs the author-page format in answering how to cite poems. However, there are three rules in MLA citation:

Rule 1:

Firstly, a poem that has an author and line numbers uses an in-text citation format. In this case, page numbers include line numbers. The use of line numbers allows writers to refer to a particular line. It is convenient when carrying out poetry analysis, for instance, Jonas 12.

Rule 2:

Secondly, students should cite a poem with only the author’s name and no line numbers by using the author’s name only. Basically, this in-text citation for poems does not allow for alternative means of identifying specific information except for the use of line numbers, for example, Jonas.

Rule 3:

Thirdly, a poem that has an author and line numbers but is subdivided into sections should provide a section identifier and the line numbers, which are separated by a period. In this case, a poem may cover acts, books, scenes, or other segments. Besides, it is crucial to identify subdivisions. The line number count may be reset at the beginning of each section, for example, Jonas 5.12.

Short and Long Quotations

By considering how to cite poems, in-text citations for short and long quotations must be covered. They are usually slightly different from standard in-text citations. Basically, short quotations that are more than one line in a poem require writers to identify the first and third lines quoted in the in-text citations. The MLA style limits short quotes to three or fewer lines in a verse. If an author quotes three lines, the second line number is excluded, and a dash used to signify the exclusion, for instance, Jonas 12-14.

Sample of a Works Cited entry for a poem in MLA:

  • Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Masterbooks, 1973, pp. 1-56.

Sample of a short quote for a poem in MLA:

  • Whitman writes “I loafe and invite my soul, / I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass” (4-5).

Then, quotations that are longer than three lines apply the same in-text citation format. However, the omission of one or more lines in a long quotation creates the need for two separate groups of line numbers separated by a comma. Omitting words requires the insertion of several periods, which results in two sets of quotations. Besides, students should provide line numbers from each set of quotes despite the lines being part of a single long quotation, for example, Jonas 12-14, 19-21. In-text citations for quotes longer than one line differ from the usual author-line number format.

Sample of a long quote for a poem in MLA:

  • Whitman in his poem touches an issue of eternity:

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.

Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,

Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age. (51-54)

How to Cite Poems in Harvard Style

Harvard style guide has a distinct citation approach in how to cite poems. For instance, citing poems covers the names of editors or the title of the anthology to maintain the author-date format. This rule suggests that the name of the poet is not included in the in-text citation. Instead, the name of the poet and poem’s title are inserted into the text of the cited sentence. As a result, a sample in-text citation in the Harvard style is:

John Ibsen’s The Talking Car (Jackson et al. 2000, p. 5) came under much criticism in the 1990s because it went against the current poetry trends.

Example of a reference entry for a poem in Harvard:

  • Dickson, E. (2003) ‘In a library,’ in Poems Series One. Fairfield: 1st World Library, pp. 14-16.

Example of an in-text citation of a poem in Harvard:

  • “His quaint opinions to inspect, / His knowledge to unfold / On what concerns our mutual mind, / The literature of old” (Dickson, 2003, p. 14).

Citing Poems in APA and Chicago/Turabian Formats

APA and Chicago/Turabian styles have no unique techniques defined for citing poems. The guide of the APA format does not provide answers to questions of how to cite poems. Basically, the lack of rules to guide the development of APA citation implies that poetry sources adopt general APA citation format. Similarly, the Chicago style citation or Turabian format lacks any information on it. In this case, footnotes are provided for a poem’s citation without any additional considerations. In APA and Chicago/Turabian styles, citing poems covers citation rules for the ‘container.’

Sample of a reference entry for a poem in APA:

  • Plath, S. (2020). Daddy. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from

Sample of an in-text citation for a poem in APA:

  • According to Plath (2020), she writes that “You do not do, you do not do / Any more, black shoe / In which I have lived like a foot” (1-3).

Example of a bibliography entry for a poem in Chicago/Turabian:

  • Lazarus, Emma. “Dreams.” In Selected Poems, 5-6. Edited by John Hollander. New York: Library of America, 2005.

Quote sample or in-text citation for a poem in Chicago/Turabian:

  • In Dreams, Emma Lazarus states, “A dream of lilies: all the blooming earth, / A garden full of fairies and of flowers.”1

Footnote sample for a poem in Chicago/Turabian:

  • Emma Lazarus, “Dreams,” in Selected Poems, ed. John Hollander (New York: Library of America, 2005), 5.

Conclusion on How to Cite Poems

In conclusion, MLA and Harvard have distinctive rules on how to cite poems. However, MLA styling rules are more elaborate than Harvard regulations. Then, Chicago/Turabian and APA styles employ traditional formats for citing a poem. Besides, MLA’s exhaustive rules for citing poems may be a consequence of the extensive use of the style in literary works. In turn, standard in-text citation formats may be modified. It includes the line number in the cited statement to allow for specificity beyond the page level. Also, check how to cite a website.

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