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How to Reference a Poem Title in an Essay

by Rachel Kolar, Demand Media

    Whether you are writing an essay about a poet or simply quoting a poem or referring to its themes, you may find yourself needing to reference the poem's title. However, it can be hard to remember whether the title is italicized, underlined or put into quotation marks. Although the treatment varies depending on the length of the poem and the format you are using, you can follow some general rules for citing poem titles in your paper.

    In-Text

    Step 1

    Write the title of the poem in title case. All of the words should be capitalized except articles ("a," "an" or "the"), short prepositions ("in," "on," "with," "at") or coordinating conjunctions ("but," "and," "nor," "or," "so").

    Step 2

    Put quotation marks around the poem's title unless it is a novel-length epic poem, such as "Paradise Lost" or "The Divine Comedy." In that case, italicize or underline the title.

    Step 3

    Cite the poem with a parenthetical citation if you are using MLA or APA format. For MLA format, write the poet's last name and the page number from which you drew the specific portion of the poem you are citing. If you are citing specific lines, include those after the page number: (Frost 16, lines 23-26). For APA format, write the author's name, the year of publication and the page number from which you drew the information preceded by "p.": (Frost, 1997, p. 16). Do not include a page number if you are citing a website unless you are citing a PDF or another website that includes page numbers.

    Step 4

    Create a footnote if you are using Chicago format. Write the poet's last name, the title of the poem, the name of the poem's anthology or the website from which you drew the poem, and the anthology or website's editor. Include the publisher, year and location of publication if you are citing a print poem and the URL and date of retrieval if you are citing a website. Place the page number and any specific lines from which you drew the information at the end of this footnote. If you are citing an epic or classic poem, cite the canto, act and scene or book instead of the page number: Yeats, William Butler, "When You Are Old," in Selected Poems: Fourth Edition, ed. M. L. Rosenthal (New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996),14, line 5. Dante, "The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio," trans. John D. Sinclair (London, Oxford University Press, 1961), Canto XXVII, lines 34-36. Dickinson, Emily, "I Heard A Fly Buzz," Women's Studies Database Reading Room at the University of Maryland, n.d., http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/Poetry/Dickinson/i-heard-a-fly-buzz (accessed April 21, 2011).

    Bibliography

    Step 1

    Cite the poem in your bibliography according to the format you are using in the rest of the essay. For MLA format, include the author's last and first name, the title of the poem in quotation marks, the italicized title of the poem's anthology, the page number of the poem and the anthology's editor, date and place of publication and publisher. If the poem is a novel-length poem contained within a single volume, cite it as you would a novel. If you found the poem online, cite it as you would any other website, including your date of access. Write "n.d." if no publication date is available. Cite a short poem like this: Yeats, William Butler. "When You Are Old." Selected Poems: Fourth Edition. Ed. M. L. Rosenthal. New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996.14. Cite a long poem like this: Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Classics. 1990. Cite an online poem like this: Dickinson, Emily. "I Heard a Fly Buzz." Women's Studies Database Reading Room at the University of Maryland. n.d. Web. 21 April 2011.

    Step 2

    Cite the poet, date of publication, poem title, editor, anthology name, page number and date and location of publication for APA format. Cite a long poem as you would a novel. Cite a poem you found online with the poet's name, the website's editor, the name of the website, the retrieval date and the URL. Cite a short poem like this: Yeats, William Butler (1996) When you are old. In M.L. Rosenthal (Ed.), Selected poems: fourth edition (p. 14). New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry. Cite a long poem like this: Virgil (1990). The Aeneid. R. Fitzgerald (trans.). New York: Vintage Classics. Cite an online poem like this: Dickinson, Emily (n.d.). I heard a fly buzz. In Women's Studies Database Reading Room at the University of Maryland (ed.), Selected poems by Emily Dickinson. Retrieved April 21, 2011 from http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/Poetry/Dickinson/i-heard-a-fly-buzz.

    Step 3

    Cite a bibliographic entry for Chicago Manual of Style as you would a footnote, replacing the commas with periods and omitting line numbers. Cite a short poem like this: Yeats, William Butler. "When You Are Old." Selected Poems: Fourth Edition. Ed. M. L. Rosenthal. New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996.14. Cite a long poem like this: Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990. Cite an online poem like this: Dickinson, Emily. "I Heard a Fly Buzz." Women's Studies Database Reading Room at the University of Maryland, n.d. http://www.mith2.umd.edu/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/Poetry/Dickinson/i-heard-a-fly-buzz (accessed April 21, 2011).

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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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