College-level essays about literature usually follow Modern Language Association, or MLA, style. MLA has very specific guidelines for quoting and citing lines from poems. Citing lines of poetry is always the same, but formatting quotations depends on how many lines you quote.
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Remember first that any exact wording from poems must be properly quoted and cited. Plagiarism occurs when you do not quote and cite material correctly. Most likely, your instructor has outlined the penalties for plagiarism in your class.
Lead in to all quotations. A lead-in is a short explanation of the quote's context and who is saying it. For example: When she heard the loud noise, she said, "What's that?" Do not use floating quotations--ones stuck into a paragraph with no explanation.
Cite all quotations from a poem by including the author's name and the line of poetry being quoted. For example, if you are citing line 3 from Sylvia Plath's poem "Metaphors," your citation should look like this: (Plath line 3).
Add the word "line" in the first citation. On subsequent citations, you can just put the line number. First time: (Plath line 3), after that: (Plath 3) or (3), if you are only discussing this one poem.
Quote one line of poetry in the text by simply enclosing in quotation marks and adding a lead-in and a citation. Add a comma after the lead-in. For example: Sylvia Plath describes the speaker's perception of her physical appearance by saying, "An elephant, a ponderous house" (Plath 2).
Quote up to three lines of poetry the same way you quote one line. The only difference is that a slash (/) must be placed between lines of poetry to show where lines begin and end. Example: Sylvia Plath describes the speaker's perception of her physical appearance by saying, "An elephant, a ponderous house / A melon strolling on two tendrils / O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!" (2-4).
Quote four or more lines of a poem using block format. This means that instead of enclosing it in quotation marks, the quotation should be on a separate line from the lead-in and indented 10 spaces. Each line of the poem should be a separate line in the block quote. For block quotes, end the lead-in with a colon. Example:
Plath's speaker lets her unexpected feelings about pregnancy be known:
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off. (6-9)
Tips and warnings
- Citations should always be clear about the source of the quoted material, but if your essay is only discussing one work, like Plath's poem, you do not need to put "Plath" in each citation. You can simply put the line numbers: (2), (2-6), (2,4).
- Use an ellipsis (...) if you just want to quote part of a line, or if you want to skip a line of the poem in a quotation. This shows that you have left out something from the quote. You do not need to use an ellipsis when skipping a line of poetry in block format. Example: Sylvia Plath describes the speaker's perception of her physical appearance by saying, "An elephant, a ponderous house / [...] / O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!" (2, 4).
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