I am working on a long form fiction item. In this one of the characters will quote the first stanza from a poem. Normally with speech, one opens quotes, adds the text, and closes quotes. However I do not wish to run the lines of the poem on to each other as I would like the reader to be able to appreciate the poem too. Thus far this has never been a problem as when citing poems; I format them as the author has, as inserts.

Doing that would have every line opening with quotes (but not closing) which I feel would look silly but not having the new paragraph/line quotes would break standard... ?

How can I present the poem being quoted and make it clear that it is the character speaking without making the poem hard to read in way that a publisher would find acceptable and a reader would not find confusing?

TL;DR - I want a character to quote a poem in speech and have the poem still read as such, while maintaining standard dialogue formatting.

1 Answer 1


Format it the same way, with blockquote indents, and if you can add a little dialogue before and after, you don't have to worry about weird quote mark placement.

Bilbo stood and cleared his throat.

"I have a new poem for you all," he announced. "It goes thus:

    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
    From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
    Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.

And that, of course, is for our dear Estel." The hobbit bowed in the direction of the ranger, who lifted his pipe in acknowledgement of the song.

If it's not too long you can also put the poem in italics, but I wouldn't do that for more than a dozen lines.

If you can't add extra dialogue, then just open and close the quotes at the beginning and end of the poem (in this example, "All" and "king").

  • +1 I would add only that if there are multiple stanzas, each gets its own opening quote, just like separate paragraphs usually do. Nov 2, 2015 at 17:15
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    @ChrisSunami I would disagree only because the text is being set off in blockquote indents. The main reason for the "this is the same person talking" repeated opening quote is because you have running copy which is indistinguishable from other running copy. You need the extra opening quote mark to alert the reader that the new paragraph is a continuation of dialogue rather than narration. But with indents, it's visually obvious that narration hasn't interrupted. Nov 2, 2015 at 21:01
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    @ChrisSunami Now, if you had a new speaker — two people reciting alternating verses of the same poem — you'd need more quote marks, and probably interspersing dialogue tags at least once or twice. Nov 2, 2015 at 21:02
  • Interestingly, that is not how Tolkien formats, at least not in the edition I'm holding. In my copy, poems are centred and italicised, no quotes. Jun 10, 2018 at 13:13
  • @Galastel I would want to go back to the slush book discussions and see if Christopher Tolkien makes any commentary about how JRR preferred to have his materials formatted. Formatting is sometimes at the whim of the publisher, and JRR had a lot of changes made to his texts which were mistakes or not what he intended ("dwarfs" vs. "dwarves," for example). It may be that italics were what JRR wanted, but I wouldn't make that claim just from a single printed edition. Jun 10, 2018 at 14:57

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