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Punctuation in Poetry: 4 Main Types and Simple Tips

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Punctuation in poetryUnlike students, poets are free to break some grammar rules for expressing their creative ideas. This is why you should not be surprised if a poem misses a coma or any other punctuation mark. Every author and even every poem can have their own poetry punctuation rules, which deserve careful attention.

Capitalization and Punctuation in Poetry

Poets use punctuation for more than just clearly communicating their messages – quite often for making it sound better or otherwise more impressing to their readers. In other words, poetry offers a lot of freedom:

  • There is no need to put every coma and dash at their places, because the rhythm or even a poet’s aesthetic taste can be perfect excuses for breaking the rules.
  • There is no need to start every line with a capital letter. It was an old tradition, but contemporary poets can choose to follow it or not.
  • It is possible to use any punctuation marks almost anywhere in the text, to convey an emotion, or simply give readers a chance to hold their breath.

Punctuation in Poetry: 4 Main Types

There are 4 main types of possible punctuation in poems. You should not be afraid of their difficult names, because everything is pretty simple:

Type Meaning Example
End stop A punctuation mark at the end of a line. “You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,”
(Maya Angelou)
Enjambment
(run-on lines)
No punctuation mark at the end of a line. The reader continues reading without making a pause, because the same idea continues in the next line. “’Cause I laugh like I ‘ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.”
(Maya Angelou)
Caesura A punctuation mark causing a pause in the middle of the line. “But still, like air, I’ll rise”
(Maya Angelou)
No punctuation Modern poets can decide not to use punctuation at all. “The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
(Maya Angelou)

Punctuation in Poetry if You Cite It

If you are going to include a direct quote from a poem in your academic paper, you should preserve the author’s style and punctuation in poems. Use capital letters where the author uses them; use punctuation marks exactly where the author does.

If you cite a single line from a poem, use the standard format of an in-text citation:
“You may shoot me with your words” (Angelou 36).

Note that the MLA citation style was used in the example above. But you should follow the rules of the concrete citation style you use for the rest of your paper.

If you cite several lines from a poem, write all of them in one line and include slashes at the places of line breaks:
“’Cause I laugh like I‘ve got gold mines/ Diggin’ in my own back yard” (Angelou 36).

So, now you understand the true value of punctuation in poetry and know the simple principles of not only writing, but also citing poems in your academic papers. Good luck in all of your endeavors and have a nice day!

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3 Comments
  • Karoyka Posted: July 18, 2017 in 4:49 pm

    There is a typo. I believe you meant “comma” in the following sentence.
    “There is no need to put every coma and dash at their places, because the rhythm or even a poet’s aesthetic taste can be perfect excuses for breaking the rules.”

    • Will Gelfand Posted: May 10, 2018 in 11:52 pm

      Chill, clearly that is what the author meant, no need to be so picky on an otherwise great article.

  • Poop doop Posted: March 14, 2018 in 10:02 pm

    Wwwwwwhhhhhhhhaaaaaattttttt?