How to Quote Poems in Academic Paper Using MLA Style

How to Quote Poems in Academic Paper Using MLA Style

Many students wonder how to quote poems in academic paper. Making a reference page and quoting poetry or prose is one of the most complicated steps in essay writing. To do it in a right way, a student has to know the next several academic writing styles:

These are the most frequently met paper formats used to quote poems and novels properly. In this guide, we will provide the readers with the main tips on how to quote poems using MLA style.

The next step is to select quotations that would best contribute to the entire work. It is better to go through a perfect example of a paper dedicated to some poem once written by an expert and follow its structure. Keep in mind that your final draft must contain at least 95-97% original text. Otherwise, students risk losing points instead of earning high grades.

When and Why You Might Need to Cite a Poem

It's not difficult to understand how to quote a poem correctly but the hardest thing is to know exactly when you have to quote. Sometimes writers start to use quotes without thinking if it's useful for their essay.  

There is no direct answer on how to quote a poem because it depends on many things, including the author's style, a thesis statement, the length of the poem and essay, and some other issues.

Of course, it doesn't mean you have to give up and start thinking it's so difficult to quote a poem. Follow two great tips below to understand when you need to use a quote:

1. Use quotes only when you need to do it

When you're going to use a quote in your writing, stop before doing this and ask if it adds something useful to your paper. Your quote may provide supportive evidence to the whole essay, and this is a perfect way to use quotes. You may also quote a poem in your work to simplify your writing and explain something to readers more clearly.

Sometimes authors try to avoid quoting but it's not the best way because it can make your essay too long, difficult to read and hard to understand to people. If you want to say something behind the words, at the start try to explain your words and then go to the meaning.

2. Quote poems to support your arguments

Needless to say, you will never be able to find your argument written exactly in the poem. The author develops their own arguments and then explains why this is the right argument using quotes as supportive evidence.

As an example, when you analyze Edgar's Poe "The Raven", you can make an argument that the Raven is a symbol of the writer's sorrow over Lenore. Here you could mention the author repeats the line "Quoth the Raven, Nevermore" very often to show the sadness, grief, and feeling of a big loss. Of course, you have to feel the balance here and it's tricky sometimes. 

You can find and read good examples online to see how other authors use quotes. In general, quoting poems needs some time and practice combined with knowledge on how to do it properly.

How to Quote a Poem in MLA Style

When you need to quote a poem in MLA writing style, just use quotation marks as with any other quote. When you quote 2-3 lines, add a slash to mark the breaks and separate the slash by spaces. Check out if you use the same style, capitalization, and punctuation as in the author's poem.


"She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes;" (Lord Byron).

If you see a stanza between the lines of the short poem, put a double slash to show it.


"Which heaven to gaudy day denies. // One shade the more, one ray the less, / Had half impaired the nameless grace" (Lord Byron).

When you need to quote poetry with more than 3 lines, you need to make a block quote. Just start your quote on a new line (left margin should be half an inch indented). Don't use quotation marks here and place the line breaks.


She walks in beauty, like the night 

Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 

And all that’s best of dark and bright 

Meet in her aspect and her eyes; 

Thus mellowed to that tender light 

Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

When you make block quotes, please make sure the format is the same as in the original. 

The Meaning of the Poem’s Title

All the poems usually have a title and stanzas. Some poems may have subtitles. The title is a name given to a poem, and a subtitle may be added by the author as a second title that explains more about the whole poem. Usually, a subtitle is written in italics

When people read a poem, they can make a common mistake: they don't read a title and go straight to the poem. They may think the subtitle of the poem is also not important at all but a title and subtitle need each other. 

When you're going to read a poem, start reading its title and subtitle. Think thoroughly about what you already know about the words in the title and subtitle. Then try to make a prediction about what this poem will be about.  

General Rules of In-Text Citations for Poems

When you need to quote a poem, it's important to state the poet's name clearly to let the readers find the source in the References page. If you need to quote several poems from the one author, state the title of the poem you're citing.  

You need to know the anthology of your chosen literature as well as many other terms before you compose your essay on a particular poem. Usually, you need to write the title of the poem and its author in the text when you write a quote. If there is any ambiguity about which poem you want to quote, you should write the poet's name and title after the quote in a parenthetical citation.

Page numbers and line in parenthetical citations

You can find poems that are published with line numbers. You can use these numbers in your quotes to locate them more precisely. In the first quote, write the word "line" but write only numbers in subsequent quotes.


"But tell of days in goodness spent, / A mind at peace with all below, / A heart whose love is innocent!" (Byron, lines 16-18).

If you see there are no numbers for lines in the poem, there is no need to count them. If the poem is long and it's published over several pages, write the page number.


"Nor need I to repine / That all those charms have pass'd away, / I might have watch'd through long decay." (Byron, 23).

If you cannot find a page number (this may happen if you're reading a poem online on the website) or if the poem is short and appears on the single page, you need to include the author's name.

"That host with their banners at sunset were seen: / Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, / That host on the morrow lay withered and strown." (Byron).

If you have already written the title of the poem and it's author while introducing the quote, and there are no page numbers and line numbers, there is no need for a parenthetical citation.

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