How To Properly Quote Poetry In An Essay

MLA Formatting Quotations

Summary:

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo RodrĂ­guez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2018-01-06 01:54:24

When you directly quote the works of others in your paper, you will format quotations differently depending on their length. Below are some basic guidelines for incorporating quotations into your paper. Please note that all pages in MLA should be double-spaced.

Short quotations

To indicate short quotations (four typed lines or fewer of prose or three lines of verse) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks. Provide the author and specific page citation (in the case of verse, provide line numbers) in the text, and include a complete reference on the Works Cited page. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted passage but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.

For example, when quoting short passages of prose, use the following examples:

According to some, dreams express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184), though others disagree.

According to Foulkes's study, dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (184).

Is it possible that dreams may express "profound aspects of personality" (Foulkes 184)?

When short (fewer than three lines of verse) quotations from poetry, mark breaks in short quotations of verse with a slash, ( / ), at the end of each line of verse (a space should precede and follow the slash).

Cullen concludes, "Of all the things that happened there / That's all I remember" (11-12).

Long quotations

For quotations that are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, place quotations in a free-standing block of text and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, with the entire quote indented ½ inch from the left margin; maintain double-spacing. Only indent the first line of the quotation by an additional quarter inch if you are citing multiple paragraphs. Your parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark. When quoting verse, maintain original line breaks. (You should maintain double-spacing throughout your essay.)

For example, when citing more than four lines of prose, use the following examples:

Nelly Dean treats Heathcliff poorly and dehumanizes him throughout her narration:

They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so, I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it would be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw's door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house. (Bronte 78)

When citing long sections (more than three lines) of poetry, keep formatting as close to the original as possible.

In his poem "My Papa's Waltz," Theodore Roethke explores his childhood with his father:

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We Romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself. (qtd. in Shrodes, Finestone, Shugrue 202)

When citing two or more paragraphs, use block quotation format, even if the passage from the paragraphs is less than four lines. Indent the first line of each quoted paragraph an extra quarter inch.

In "American Origins of the Writing-across-the-Curriculum Movement," David Russell argues,

   Writing has been an issue in American secondary and higher education since papers and examinations came into wide use in the 1870s, eventually driving out formal recitation and oral examination. . . .
   From its birth in the late nineteenth century, progressive education has wrestled with the conflict within industrial society between pressure to increase specialization of knowledge and of professional work (upholding disciplinary standards) and pressure to integrate more fully an ever-widerning number of citizens into intellectually meaningful activity within mass society (promoting social equity). . . . (3)

Adding or omitting words in quotations

If you add a word or words in a quotation, you should put brackets around the words to indicate that they are not part of the original text.

Jan Harold Brunvand, in an essay on urban legends, states, "some individuals [who retell urban legends] make a point of learning every rumor or tale" (78).

If you omit a word or words from a quotation, you should indicate the deleted word or words by using ellipsis marks, which are three periods ( . . . ) preceded and followed by a space. For example:

In an essay on urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand notes that "some individuals make a point of learning every recent rumor or tale . . . and in a short time a lively exchange of details occurs" (78).

Please note that brackets are not needed around ellipses unless adding brackets would clarify your use of ellipses.

When omitting words from poetry quotations, use a standard three-period ellipses; however, when omitting one or more full lines of poetry, space several periods to about the length of a complete line in the poem:

                      These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration . . . (22-24, 28-30)

Quotations

Different style sheets (MLA, Chicago, etc.) have different conventions for quoting in literary essays. Normally I am tolerant of variations, but many students do not seem aware of some features shared by all for quoting poetry. Please follow the guidelines below (and your other professors will appreciate it if you do this in other classes).

Cite page numbers for prose and line numbers for poetry. If you are quoting a poem translated into prose, cite line numbers if possible; otherwise cite page numbers. If you aren't sure about the difference between poetry and prose, click here.

If you are citing The Canterbury Tales from The Riverside Chaucer, you may replace the name of the tale with the fragment number. Hence you may cite line 1 of the Knight's Tale as "(Knight's Tale, 1)" or as "(I.859)" (that is, line 859 of Fragment I).

When citing poetry indicate the line breaks you find in the edition you are quoting from. Do not cite the text as continuous prose.

Short Quotations

If you are quoting under four lines of poetry, indicate the line breaks with "/". Here is an example from an essay on Chaucer:

[Chaucer's] images are simple and direct. They are for the most part introduced with nothing more than a "like to", or "as", and cover all phases of human activity, and make their effect by their homely and immediate appeal. The bells on the Monk's bridle ring "in a whistlynge wynd als cleere, / And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle" (General Prologue, 170-171).

Remember to separate the "/" from any other text or punctuation with spaces on either side.

If your quotation is longer than four lines, you must indicate line breaks as they are printed in the text from which you are quoting--without slashes. The quotation must be indented and formatted as described below.

Longer Quotations

If your quotation consists of four or more lines or prose or poetry, follow the guidelines below:

  • Separate the quotation from the main text of your essay by indenting it. You may single space the quotation, but do not centre the text and do not change the font.
  • The indentation indicates that the text is a quotation; you do not need quotations marks. However, if the quotation contains but does not consist entirely of dialogue, use quotation marks for the dialogue portions of the quotation.
  • You must indicate the line breaks in poetry as they are printed in the text from which you are quoting. Do not use slashes.

Here are two examples:

The arming scene calls our attention to the difficulties of judging Gawain's actions. Hollis nicely states the problem:

The poem itself prompts us to ask questions about the process involved in Gawain's action. The arming scene, in its interpretation of the pentangle symbol, presents us with an apparently perfect hero, one whose virtues are so preeminent and so tightly integrated that it appears impossible for evil to find entry (619-65, esp. 656-61). How, then, does it happen that, much as Gawain and the Green Knight differ in their judgement, Gawain acts in such a way that both agree he has fallen short of perfection? (1)

It is thus important to consider in what ways Gawain considers himself to have failed. Gawain makes four attempts to explain his failing, each quite distinct in kind. His initial reaction to the Green Knight's revelation is to regard his action in terms of specific vices causing the destruction of virtue:

"Corsed worth cowarddyse and couetyse bothe!
In yow is vylany and vyse that vertue disstryez."
Thenne he ka3t to the knot, and the kest lawsez,
Brayde brothely the belt to the burne seluen"
"Lo! ther the falssyng, foule mot his falle!" (2374-84)

Gawain's account of his behaviour here is reminiscent of the action of a morality play.

Here is an example without any dialogue:

First we may take his work in rhyme royal and look at a passage in which a sense of considerable emotion has to be conveyed:

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,
The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne:
Al this mene I by Love, that my felynge
Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge
So sore iwis, that whan I on hym thynke,
Nat wot I wel where that I flete or synke. (The Parliament of Fowls, ll. 1-7)

Now while it is true, as Professor Manly points out that his passage in an example of the rhetorical method of beginning a poem with a sententia, it is even more important to observe how Chaucer has given the bare idea a life and emotion of his own.

Commas before Quotations

Comma placement before a quotation also causes people trouble. Notice that in 'The bells on the Monk's bridle ring "in a whistlynge wynd als cleere…"' there is no comma after "ring" and before the beginning of the quote? This is because the quotation works grammatically in the sentence. In this case, the first letter of the quotation should be lower case (unless the first word is a proper noun). With shorter quotations you should attempt to do this wherever possible on stylistic grounds. Here are some examples of quotations integrated into the grammar of the sentence.

The next step is his alliance with covetousness -- he identifies himself with a vice, forsaking his true nature to become "fawty and falce" (2382).

Gawain has very good reasons besides modesty to decline the Lady's offer to "take the toruayle to myself to trwluf expoun" (1540).

The Lady of the Castle appeals to Gawain's "manhod" when she reminds him that he is "stif innoghe to constrayne wyth strenkthe" (1497).

Putter argues that "the poet's commitment to ideals of courtoisie, the high standards of refinement and delicacy imperative at court, inevitably entails emphasis on coarseness and locus to which it is intrinsic" (47-48).

Both versions introduce Tom Bombadil without further explanation as "a merry fellow" (646). Both also give Tom four adventures, or encounters with malignant powers.

Eomer says that "wanderers in the Riddermark would be wise to be less haughty in these days of doubt" (645-55).

Shippey argues that "Tolkien knew (none better) that dwarf-names he had used in The Hobbit came from Old Norse" (55).

If you are quoting dialogue, or a statement made by an author, and you are drawing attention to it as a statement, a comma normally precedes the quote. This almost always comes after a verb like "says", "asks", "responds", "states", "screams", etc. In these instances, the quotation begins with a capital letter. Consider the following examples:

At the end of the first part of the Knight's Tale, Chaucer asks, "Who hath the worse, Arcite or Palamoun?" (Knight's Tale, 1348).

The narrator's own summing up is, indeed, a slightly tempered view of the absolute perfection put forward in 632-35. Hearing the Green Knight's challenge, Arthur responds, "Sir cortays knyght, / If thou crave batayl bare, / Here faylez thou not to fyght" (276-78).

He says, "This pure fyue / Were harder happed on that hathel then on any other" (645-55).

According to Putter, "The great Ricardian poets bequeathed to modern criticism a suspicion about the literary seriousness of Arthurian romance" (1).

Both versions introduce Tom Bombadil without further explanation: "Old Tom Bombadil was a merry fellow; / bright blue his jacket was, and his boots were yellow" (646). Both also give Tom four adventures, or encounters with malignant powers.

Eomer says, "Wanderers in the Riddermark would be wise to be less haughty in these days of doubt" (645-55).

According to Shippey, "Tolkien knew (none better) that dwarf-names he had used in The Hobbit came from Old Norse" (55).

Integrating Quotations

When you include a quotation to illustrate a point you have made, the quotation should be followed by an explanation of how the material in the quotation illustrates your point.

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Last Update: 20 March, 2003

 

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