How to cite a poem | All technical format examples

Poetry Citation Formats

Academic papers require the use of references as a way of learning from what others have studied. You will need to reference these examples or concepts, see what research had been done to support your ideas, and agree or disagree with certain theorists in the field. Be respectful by citing all of your references, and providing a reference list at the end of your essay.


There are a number of different reference types. Your professor will tell you which one to use. The APA style is used for essays in the social sciences—such as anthropology, economics, psychology, and sociology. The life sciences—such as biology, environmental science, medicine—use a similar style such as Chicago or Turabian. Finally, English literature essays use a style called MLA.


With all styles, you will need in-text citations and a reference list. An in-text citation refers to citing the source of a direct quote or idea provided in the scholarly literature. While APA requires page numbers for quotations only, some professors who prefer MLA style will ask for a page number citation for each idea. Chicago in-text citations are footnotes, while the other styles just present the citation in brackets after each quote or idea. In other words, this is a detailed process. It is best to use the citation system recommended by your professor or school, because there are often variations. If you can’t find this information in your course syllabus, ask your professor, tutor, or school writing center for the exact style you will need.

In any case, if you are quoting a poem, you will need to use a full citation for each quote. Here are all technical format examples needed to cite a poem.



For modern works, cite poems as you would a book, giving line numbers instead of page numbers, e.g.: (22-34). For classical plays and poems, cite line numbers instead of page numbers. For plays, include act, scene, and line numbers separated by periods, and if you are only writing about one author’s works, you do not need to include their name in the citation. If you are using more than one poetry author in the essay then you must include their name.


For example, this essay would have only Shakespeare as an author:

Claudius bemoans that friends will not recognize Hamlet.

"Something have you heard of Hamlet's transformation; so call it, sith nor the exterior nor the inward man resembles that it was” (2.2.4-7).


This essay would have Shakespeare and others as an author:


Claudius bemoans that friends will not recognize Hamlet.

“Something have you heard of Hamlet's transformation; so call it, sith nor the exterior nor the inward man resembles that it was” (Shakespeare 2.2.4-7).


This essay would have two of Shakespeare’s plays, but only Shakespeare as an author:


Claudius bemoans that friends will not recognize Hamlet.

“Something have you heard of Hamlet's transformation; so call it, sith nor the exterior nor the inward man resembles that it was” (Hamlet 2.2.4-7).



For this style, cite as you would MLA, but with a footnote, as follows, using forward slashes between line breaks. Always include the author’s name in the citation.


As the author writes, “It’s not that I care so much for them, / but I dread others will talk much; / Zhongzi may be in my

thoughts, / but when people talk too much / that too may be held in dread.”1

Footnote this as: 1 Owen 46 ll. 21-25.



This style uses a very specific approach using a much more detailed citation style, as you can see in the example below. Always include the author’s name in the citation, as well as that of the translator, when needed.


In Homer’s poem, The Iliad, the author writes:

I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly (Homer, trans. Lattimore, 1961, p. 87).


As you read poems, read with questions, and search for clues to their meaning. These sample questions should help you to get started: did the poems lead you to think differently about the world, about being human or about writing as a creative process? Did it deepen, or confirm, views you now hold? Did it challenge you to see things differently? If so, how? Why do you think this is important? How did the author achieve this through narrative, character interaction and/or structure and language?


In looking at poems, you might focus on a particular human problem (imperfect love, for instance) or situation that you think the author is exploring (how the past haunts the present); an idea in the way characters are presented and behave; an idea expressed by the way the story is structured.


Alternatively, you may wish to analyze the language and/or form of the work. If you focus on language or form, you might consider how specific structures or use(s) of language create a deeper level of meaning/significance that help you to better understand the richness of the text and suggest something about human experience. If you are writing on a poet, you may take up what you see as a theme or issue in the text, but focus on a few poems to support and illustrate your points. What does the poem reveal? What do you learn about being human when you consider this poem? What is significant about the poem, in your view?


If you are having difficulty citing poems for your essay, let us assist you by doing the work for you or giving you support.

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