For example, in the lines:

Say what good really is a life,
When so thoroughly deprived of joy
Is my restless mind,
Hurting constantly, in a dreadful strife?
When it needs so many lies,
With which I should deceive myself,
So, for another day, I could survive?

The "sentences" end after 'strife' and 'survive,' but a case can be made for question marks after 'mind' and 'myself.' So should question marks in lines of poetry be put like in lines of prose, i.e. at the end of a thought or "sentence?"

  • Welcome to Writing.SE, PsyPhi! Take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're helpful. I've done some formatting on your question: you need either a double linebreak or double space+linebreak for a new paragraph. I believe it is now closer to how you intended it? Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 16:09
  • 1
    My answer is deliberately how to decide on punctuation and not how to punctuate your poem in particular. Because the latter is asking for a critique, which is something we don't do here. And the former is more likely to be helpful to other Writing.SE readers.
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 16:53
  • 2
    As a critique, which we don't do here, the same poem without any question mark would sound twice bleaker and void of any hope. As is, it is as if the main voice pretended to be sad just to get attention.
    – NofP
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 11:05
  • I was wondering if I needed to put question marks at all to be grammatically correct, but from your suggestion, I looked it up and realized that they could be presented as rhetorical questions with no need for the question marks.
    – PsyPhi
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


Put question marks when you have rising intonation.

I suggest you read your poem out loud. Do this multiple times and really do it out loud, not just in your head. Try it with and without the question marks. Or try them in different places.

Punctuation is a guide for how to speak writing out loud (of course it also serves other purposes, including for silent reading). Commas are short pauses and periods longer ones, for example. Exclamation points give emphasis and question marks change intonation, something we associate with questions, even if no question is intended.

Figure out how you want your poem to sound. Read it out loud to others too, to make sure it lands the way you intend. Once you know what you're aiming for, add in punctuation to get that effect. In other words, someone who has never met you should be able to read your poem out loud and have it sound just like when you read it.

While this technique can be helpful for writers of all genres, it is especially useful for writing such as poetry which often has fragmented lines such that standard rules of punctuation don't apply in any obvious way.

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