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How to Cite a Line in a Poem

by Rachel Kolar, Demand Media

    You've mastered the art of citing books in your essays -- but now you have to cite a poem, which uses lines instead of page numbers in MLA format. To make matters even more complicated, if you are citing an epic poem, you will need to cite the book or canto, as well as the line number. However, the rules for citing poetry in both MLA and APA formats are as codified as the rules for citing other works, and once you have learned them, you can cite lines of poetry with ease.

    MLA

    Step 1

    Cite the poem in-text by writing the poet's last name in parentheses. After the author's name, write the line number that you are citing. If you name the poet in the body of the paragraph, do not name him again in parentheses. For example: In "Loveliest of Trees," Housman predicts he will only have fifty more springs to see the cherry blossoms (8). "Thanatopsis" notes that death will not be a lonely state, as all have died (Bryant 31-56).

    Step 2

    Cite an anonymous poem as you would a poem with an author, but write the poem's title, in quotes, in place of the poet's last name. For example: "Beowulf" states that Grendel is related to "monsters and elves and the walking dead, / And also those giants who fought against God" (112-113). As a descendant of Cain, Grendel is related to "monsters and elves and the walking dead, / And also those giants who fought against God" ("Beowulf" 112-113).

    Step 3

    Cite a line from an epic or other long poem by writing the canto or book before the line number, followed by a period. Use Arabic numerals even if your book uses Roman numerals for cantos and books. For example: Astyanax does not recognize Hector when he wears his helmet (Homer 6.556-562).

    Step 4

    Cite the entire poem in your bibliography, not just the line or lines you cite in the text of your paper. Write the poet's last name, a comma and his first name. Write the title of the poem in quotation marks if it is short, or in italics if it is longer than a short story. Write the title of the anthology, if any, in italics. If the anthology has an editor, write "Ed." followed by the editor's name. Write the place of publication, a colon, the publishing company, a comma, the year of publication and a period. Write the page or pages on which the poem is located in the anthology followed by a period and the word "Print." If the poem is anonymous, begin with the title of the poem instead of the author. For example: Bryant, William Cullen. "Thanatopsis." Treasury of Favorite Poems. Ed. Louis Untermyer. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996. 434-436. Print. Beowulf. Ed. and trans. Howell D. Chickering, Jr. New York: Doubleday, 1977. Print. Eliot, T.S. "Growltiger's Last Stand." Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1982. 9-11. Print.

    APA

    Step 1

    Cite the poem in-text by writing the poet's last name in parentheses, followed by a comma, the year of the anthology or edition's publication and the page number you are quoting. Do not cite the specific line in APA. If you name the poet in-text, write the year of publication in parentheses after the poet's name and write the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. For example: In "Loveliest of Trees," Housman (1996) predicts he will only have fifty more springs to see the cherry blossoms (p. 485). "Thanatopsis" notes that death will not be a lonely state, as all have died (Bryant, 1996, p. 434).

    Step 2

    Cite an anonymous poem as you would a poem with an author, but write the poem's title, in quotes, in place of the poet's last name. For example: "Beowulf" (1977) states that Grendel is related to "monsters and elves and the walking dead, / And also those giants who fought against God" (p. 55). As a descendant of Cain, Grendel is related to "monsters and elves and the walking dead, / And also those giants who fought against God" ("Beowulf," 1977, p. 55).

    Step 3

    Cite the poem in your bibliography by writing the poet's last name, a comma and the first initial. Write the publication date of the anthology or edition in parentheses. Write the title of the poem, capitalizing only the first letter and any proper nouns, followed by a period. If the poem is in an anthology, write "In" followed by the editor's name and (Ed.), then the title of the anthology in italics. Conclude by writing the page numbers in parentheses, the place of publication, a colon and the publisher name. If the poem is anonymous, write the title in place of the author's name. For example: Eliot, T.S. (1982). Growltiger's last stand. In Old Possum's book of practical cats (pp. 9-11). Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers. Bryant, W.C. (1996). Thanatopsis. In L. Untermeyer (Ed.), Treasury of favorite poems (pp. 434-436). New York: Barnes & Noble Books. Beowulf. (1977). (H.D. Chickering, Ed. and Trans.). New York: Doubleday.

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    About the Author

    A resident of the Baltimore area, Rachel Kolar has been writing since 2001. Her educational research was featured at the Maryland State Department of Education Professional Schools Development Conference in 2008. Kolar holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kenyon College and a Master of Arts in teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

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