How should I style my parenthetical citation the first time I quote lines from a poem if I have not mentioned the author’s name in my prose?
Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.
The MLA Handbook explains that if you are citing line numbers instead of page numbers in your parenthetical citation, you should “in your first citation, use the word line or lines” before the line numbers, “and then, having established that the numbers designate lines, give the numbers alone” (121):
According to the narrator of Felicia Hemans’s poem, the emerging prisoners “had learn’d, in cells of secret gloom, / How sunshine is forgotten!” (lines 131-32).
If you do not mention the author’s name in your prose, include it in the parenthetical citation and separate the name from the word line or lines with a comma:
According to the narrator of the poem, the emerging prisoners “had learn’d, in cells of secret gloom, / How sunshine is forgotten!” (Hemans, lines 131-32).
MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.