What Is Enjambment? | Definition & Examples

Rhetoric updated on  February 12, 2024 4 min read

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 example: “Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

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.

The usual pattern in poetry is to have a line break at the end of a sentence or thought. This is called an end-stopped line. Enjambent subverts this expectation by running over from one line to the next without using any punctuation (like a comma or a period) to indicate a pause. This alters the flow of a poem and forces the reader to continue so that they can reach the conclusion of a thought.

End-stopped line vs enjambed line example
Each line of “Sonnet 18” by Shakespeare ends with punctuation marks indicating a pause and a completion of the thought within each line:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Conversely, the first four lines of “Sonnet 116” are enjambed. They do not end with punctuation and cannot be understood independently:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
That alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:”

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.

Enjambment examples

In the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake, enjambment speeds up the flow and creates a sense of urgency.

Enjambment example: “The Tyger”
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

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.

Enjambment example: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


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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.


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Kassiani

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.

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