What is an Enjambment in Poetry
In poetry, enjambment is the continuation of a sentence from one line to another, without terminal punctuation. It is the incomplete syntax at the end of a line. It is also the opposite of end-stopped line. In simple terms, what happens in enjambment is that the phrase or clause does not stop at the line break, but moves on to the next line. In end-stopped lines, as the name suggests, the phrase or clause stops at the end of the line. The best way to understand the difference between enjambment and end-stopped line is to look at some examples. In the following example, the end-stopped lines are marked in green.(|) The unmarked lines are enjambed lines.
We search the boathouse on Paradise Pond; |
the window lights of the state asylum
dominate the sweeping skyline beyond, |
radiating a contagious gloom
as if the campus were its anteroom. |
Sensing the madness in our enterprise
we abandon our foundering tandem, |
exhaustion having (at last) made us wise. |
Who’d pump a symbol seven miles but two Amherst guys? |
– Robert Bagg’s Tandem Ride
In reading the poem, tension is created by the pause of the line-end and the suggestion to continue implied by the incomplete meaning. Therefore, writers use enjambment to include tension and surprise in their work. This technique also gives the poem a sense of natural motion.
Examples of Enjambment in Poetry
Given below are some examples of enjambment in poetry. Note that the end-stopped lines are marked by the | sign.
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.|
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.|
– T.S Elliot’s The Waste Land
“Against my love shall be as I am now, |
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’erworn; |
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age’s steepy night; |
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight, |
Stealing away the treasure of his spring; |”
– Shakespeare’s sonnet 63
“The back wings
will grow lie
in which shine
pieces of a green
– William Carlos Williams’ Between Walls
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:|
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and asleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”|
– John Keats’ Endymion
It is important to note that many skillful poems use a mixture of enjambment and end-stopped lines to give their poems a fine flow and rhythm.
Summary – Enjambment
- Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence from one line to another, without terminal punctuation.
- Enjambment is the opposite of end-stopped line.
- End-stopped line is a pause comes at the end of a syntactic unit.
- Many poems use a mixture of enjambment and end-stopped line.