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Enjambment: Enjambment is the breaking of a syntactical unit across lines of a poem.
Posted by Douglas, Sep 18, 2010.


Posted by Douglas, Sep 18, 2010.
Filed in : Articles : Poetry

Enjambment is the breaking of a syntactical unit across lines of a poem (and that is far less complicated than it sounds, trust me!).

It is common, when people write poems, to have each line either a complete thought (sentence) or at least a complete phrase/clause. This is referred to as end-stopped poetry.

Enjambment is breaking phrases up in such a way that the end of a line does not coincide with the end of a phrase; the phrase ends somewhere in the next line. You can see an example of enjambment in the first line of this poem:

When tears, like raindrops watering the ground
From darkly clouded skies, fall wet and bleak,
Then do not hide, I pray, the hurts that wound
And bring those salted drops to ashen cheek.

When tears, like sparrows, fall from soaring height,
Then let me taste with you their bitter gall,
Partake of some divine and holy light,
To know and understand each one that falls.

(Copyright 2010 by Douglas Twitchell

The first line does not contain a full thought/phrase; the phrase "like raindrops watering the ground from darkly clouded skies" crosses the boundary between lines. This is an example of enjambment. After the first line, however, the poem is entirely end-stopped.

The following poem is entirely enjambed:

Across the wild and blue-green wide expanse
of ocean waves, a single rocky cliff
Defies the sea. A brutal soldier's lance
Erected tall to dwarf that tiny bluff
Of stone, with sturdy and unflagging stance
Declares to all, "Thus far is far enough."

(Copyright 2010 by Douglas Twitchell)

It is tempting, when reading poetry, to pause at the end of lines, but as you can see from the poem above, that sort of reading results in a very disjointed sounding poem. Train your mind and your ear to hear how it sounds with pauses at the ends of phrases instead of at the end of the lines. If you are used to entirely end-stopped (non-enjambed) poetry, enjambment can be startling to read, but if read properly it can also produce a smoother flow of thought.

See Also
End-Stopped Poetry

Copyright 2010 Douglas. All rights reserved. has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.

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