What is an Enjambment in Poetry

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.What is an Enjambment in Poetry

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
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

in which shine
the broken

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.

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