I'm trying to figure out whether I need to cite these poems or not.

“Out, Out—” has its morbid description of a young boy bleeding out and its underlying theme of death. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” has its pessimistic theme that nothing beautiful can stay beautiful.

I speak so generally that I

  1. Have no idea if it's ethical or not to exclude citation

  2. What I would cite were I to. Generally you cite poems by line numbers. If one were to cite a poem based on a description of its theme, doesn't that encompass the entire poem? This has more to do with the in-text citation part.

Thanks for any help

2 Answers 2


In general, it's always a good idea to cite your sources. This can especially be the case with older poetry, where there are often differences in spelling, punctuation, and layout between different editions of the same poem.

So, at the first mention of a literary work, whether it's a direct quotation or an indirect reference, it's probably a good idea to cite the specific version of the poem you're writing about. This will make life easier for everybody involved. You would cite the overall poem, usually as a publication in a larger source, and follow the specific guidelines of whatever style manual the publication you are writing for (or the school you are attending) is using.

For example:

Poetovsky, R. "Sonnet 100" in Every Sonnet Ever Written by Anybody, ed. John Smith. Random Publisher, Some City (2000).

Then, if you go on to cite the poem again, you can refer to the specific lines as needed; general statements probably wouldn't need to be cited.

  • I'm all for being overprotective about citing sources, my issue is the in-text citation. I'm getting these poems from poetryfoundation/a convenient website. Since normal in-text citation format has always been "cite the line numbers you reference", and I'm referencing the entirety of the poem (through some abstract mentioning of its theme), should I just cite it as (1-20) where 20 is the end, encompassing the entire poem? I guess the answer is right in my face.
    – 2c2c
    Nov 19, 2013 at 6:18
  • After the initial reference to the work, you do not need to cite the entire poem if you make general statements about it; only if you refer to particular sections, or quote specific excerpts.
    – aeismail
    Nov 19, 2013 at 6:55
  • What are you referring to when you say "initial citation" ?
    – 2c2c
    Nov 19, 2013 at 7:04
  • The first time you refer to a poem in the work. (I've changed "citation" to "reference"; I hope that makes the intent clearer.)
    – aeismail
    Nov 19, 2013 at 7:41

I think you answered your own question. Although my trusty handbook doesn't specifically address this issue, when citing a poem based on a description of its theme, you are referring to the entire poem. In text citation would thus be (Poetmann lines 1-100), where 100 is the last line of the poem. Obviously, if you later mention a specific line of the poem to back up your claim about the theme, you would cite this particular line as (Poetmann 6).

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