I'd like to quote a nursery rhyme at the beginning of my chapter, but I'm not sure the proper formatting for this.

I've seen a lot of authors quote passages from books, songs, and various other locations. At the end, they put the author (if known) to give credit.

For reference, the nursery rhyme I am referring to is "What Are Little Boys Made Of?"


                 PART 1

    "What are little boys made of?
    Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
    That's what little boys are made of.

    What are little girls made of? 
    Sugar and spice and all things nice,
    That's what little girls are made of."
    - Author?

1 Answer 1

  • Nursery rhymes should be formatted the same as any other poems.

    • As a block quote, each line of poem is set on its own line, matching the formatting of the original as much as possible. (This includes indents at the start of each line, as in George Herbert's "The Altar".) No quotation marks are used. Except for the quotation marks, the example in the question is formatted correctly for setting the poem as a block quote. Since you're quoting a large portion (and apparently as an epigraph), a block quote would be appropriate.

    • For quoting in the text body, you would use quotation marks, with a slash between the lines: e.g.,

      The poem begins "What are little boys made of?/ Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,/ That's what little boys are made of."

  • For the citation, you'll need to do some research. If the poem is anonymous, you can just list "Anonymous" as the "author". An anonymous poem old enough to be traditional can be credited as in this way, but it's more common to either credit "Traditional" as the "author" or simply include no credit (presuming your readers will recognize the poem). Whether an anonymous work is traditional work is a matter for authorial discretion, but most Mother Goose rhymes would probably qualify (not all are anonymous). If this rhyme is anonymous, I'd recommend crediting "Traditional" or giving no credit line.

Update: In The Annotated Mother Goose, William S. Baring-Gould and Cecil Baring-Gould list a similar rhyme that dates back to at least the mid 1800's; it is of unknown authorship but attributed (probably incorrectly) to the English Romantic poet Robert Southey (1774–1843). No guarantees, but I think it's safe to call this one traditional.

  • Thank you for the detailed answer. I greatly appreciate it. Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:06
  • @GreenChili No problem. Happy writing!
    – j_foster
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 0:50

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