Enjambment is when a sentence or phrase spans over more than one line of poetry. Because of this, a thought or idea carries on from one line to the next without a pause or punctuation mark at the end of the line.
Enjambment can affect the rhythm and pace of a poem.
Enjambment can be found in different types of poems, including haikus, sonnets, and free verse.
What is enjambment?
Enjambment is a poetic technique that describes the continuation of a sentence in the next line, stanza, or couplet without a pause. Instead of a natural pause at the end of a line, the thought continues seamlessly onto the next line.
What is the purpose of enjambment?
Enjambment impacts the flow and meaning of a poem. It also affects how the poem sounds when we read it out loud. The exact effect depends on the poet’s intent. Writers use enjambment to:
- Engage readers: Because the meaning of a phrase is carried on to the next line, readers are intrigued to find out what comes next. This can also lead to ambiguity or contradiction, even if only temporarily—one line may suggest a meaning that the next line subverts.
- Emphasize a word: Ending a line with a word you would not normally end a sentence or phrase with is a way to draw attention to it. By extension, enjambment also highlights the idea or theme that the word encapsulates.
- Control the rhythm: Enjambment helps writers control the pace at which the reader moves through the poem. Varying the use of enjambment can cause readers to read more quickly or slowly.
- Create continuity: Enjambment allows thoughts to flow freely from one line to the next, lending a prose-like character to the poem.
In the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake, enjambment speeds up the flow and creates a sense of urgency.
Many poems combine enjambment with rhyme. For example, in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, the smooth and uninterrupted flow of thought created by enjambment is combined with the musicality of rhyming.
Frequently asked questions about enjambment
What is the difference between enjambment and end-stopped lines?
In poetry, enjambment is the continuation of a phrase or sentence from one line to the next without any punctuation (e.g., “I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o'er vales and hills”). With enjambment, a thought continues seamlessly across lines, creating a sense of flow and continuity.
On the other hand, an end-stopped line ends with a punctuation mark. This causes the reader to pause before continuing to the next line (e.g., “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. / Whatever I see I swallow immediately”). End-stopped lines cause the reader to pause and signal the completion of a thought.
Why is enjambment important in poetry?
Enjambment is important in poetry because it creates a sense of flow and continuity between lines. Because of this, enjambment also helps poets control the rhythm and pacing of their poems, creating different effects, like urgency or tension.
Also, by allowing thoughts and phrases to flow seamlessly from one line to the next without pause, enjambment can play with expectations and invite multiple interpretations.
In short, enjambment allows poets to add depth, rhythm, and complexity to the structure of a poem.