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Guidelines for Citing Poems in MLA and APA Style Formats: A Comparative Analysis with Examples

August 19, 2023
7 minutes read
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When engaging in academic writing, adhering to proper citation practices is of paramount importance. This standard is equally applicable when citing a poem. The Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) styles are both commonly used, and each has distinct guidelines for citing poetry. This article delineates the specifics of how to cite poems in these two predominant citation formats, elucidates their unique characteristics, and provides practical examples to illustrate the procedures involved. For those who may find this process challenging, considering assistance from an APA paper writing service can be a beneficial option to ensure the accuracy of your citations.

Quoting Poetry Titles in MLA Format

In the MLA format for poems, titles of short poems should be enclosed in double quotation marks, whereas long, book-length poems should be italicized. For example:

  • Short Poem: "When The Last Tree Falls"
  • Long Poem: Divine Comedy

It is noteworthy that short poems necessitate the use of double quotation marks without italics, whereas book-length poems require italicization without the use of quotation marks, thereby distinguishing their stature and prominence.

Citing a Poem in MLA Format: In-text Citations

Citing a poem in-text in the MLA format is a meticulous process, necessitating careful attention to each line's unique attributes. To illustrate:

Boris Pasternak asserts that "a morning bleak... within a dawn threader has been the solitude of none" (13).

When quoting poetry that extends over four lines in the MLA format, special formatting is requisite:

  1. Commence the quote on a new line with a one-inch margin from the left side.
  2. Preserve the original line breaks of the poem.
  3. Implement double-spacing for each line.
  4. Utilize quotation marks to demarcate the start and end of the poem.
  5. Position the parenthetical citation subsequent to the final punctuation of the quotation.

How to Cite a Poem in MLA Format for the Works Cited Page

The Works Cited page constitutes a critical component of an academic paper. The format for citing a poem in a book in the MLA style diverges slightly from that of a poem located online or one accompanied by an editor:

  • A Poem in a Book:Smith, John. "The Diamonds." Vagabond Poetry: 18th-century English Poetry, edited by Tim S. Collins and Liam O'Kane, Oxford Press, 2005, pp. 122-125.
  • A Poem Found Online:Hughes, Gary. "Ten Phantoms Deep." Ten Lyrics Archive, Gary Hughes Poetry Archive,
  • A Poem with an Editor:Dermott, Andrew. "Solitude." The Scottish Clan Poetry, edited by Duncan Pulsford, Oxford Press, 2010, p. 34.

This comprehensive guide ensures that, whether engaging with an epic poem such as Homer’s Odyssey or a brief lyric poem, the reader’s citations will be transparent, precise, and in strict accordance with MLA standards.

Methods for Quoting Poetry in APA Format

In APA style, citing poetry necessitates the integration of concise yet comprehensive information, designed to facilitate the reader's access to the original source. For short quotations, the quote should be enclosed within double quotation marks, accompanied by the author's last name, the year of publication, and—when available—a specific page number. For instance:

"Tears are the diamonds of soul / Don't let these diamonds fall upon deaf ears" (Bjarnason, 1889/2006, p. 11).

Distinct from the MLA poem citation method, APA style uniquely employs a forward slash to indicate line breaks when quoting two lines from a poem, thereby enhancing the readability of the text.

Utilizing Tools for Automatic Generation of Citations

In this digital age, an array of online tools have been developed to streamline the citation process, automatically generating citations in APA format based on user-inputted data. Notable examples of such tools include Citation Machine, EasyBib, and Zotero, all of which can prove invaluable when dealing with complex sources, such as poems.

While these tools are markedly efficient, it is imperative to rigorously compare their output with official APA guidelines. This ensures the integrity and scholarly rigor of your work.

Quoting Three or More Lines of Poetry in an Essay in APA Format

When the necessity arises to quote poems in an essay, specifically three or more lines of poetry in APA format, the quotation should commence on a new line and be indented as a block quote. Unlike short quotes, block quotes are exempt from the requirement of quotation marks. Rather, they are formatted as plain text, thus mirroring the original structure of the poem, as demonstrated below:

    Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
    And make me travel forth without my cloak,
    To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
    Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
    (Shakespeare, 2009, p. 25)

This format preserves the original integrity of the poem and establishes a distinct demarcation from the remainder of the essay text.

Procedures for Adding a Poem to Your APA References List

Incorporating a poem into your APA References List is an indispensable step, serving to authenticate your work and enabling readers to seek out and consult the original poetic source. The requisite format for this citation varies based on whether the poem is published in print, accessible online, part of a more extensive work, or is a translated piece. The examples below elucidate these diverse scenarios:

  • Poetry in Print:Langsey, M.N. (2016). Vargants In Deeper Space: Middle-Ages Poetry Anthology. Phoenix Publishing.
  • A Poem Found Online:McFly, John. (2015, November 6). On top of the network. Modern Hip-hop Poetry Archive.
  • A Poem In a Chapter or an Edited Source:King, M. (2009). My Verona. In L.V. Smith (Ed.), Mediterranean Poetry: From Italy to Turkey (pp. 7-11). Penguin Books.
  • A Translated Poem:LeBron, S (2019). Come Undone. (R. James, Trans.). (Original work published 1932). French Poetry Foundation.

Through strict adherence to these standards and formats, researchers and writers alike can solidify the credibility of their papers and pay homage to the original poets whose work has served to inspire their own scholarly endeavors.

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