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In poetry, enjambment ( /ɛnˈæmbmənt/ or /ɛnˈæmmənt/ ; from the French enjambement) [1] is incomplete syntax at the end of a line; [2] the meaning runs over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation. Lines without enjambment are end-stopped.


In reading, the delay of meaning creates a tension that is released when the word or phrase that completes the syntax is encountered (called the rejet); [1] the tension arises from the "mixed message" produced both by the pause of the line-end, and the suggestion to continue provided by the incomplete meaning. [3] In spite of the apparent contradiction between rhyme, which heightens closure, and enjambment, which delays it, the technique is compatible with rhymed verse. [3] Even in couplets, the closed or heroic couplet was a late development; older is the open couplet, where rhyme and enjambed lines co-exist. [3]

Enjambment has a long history in poetry. Homer used the technique, and it is the norm for alliterative verse where rhyme is unknown. [3] In the 32nd Psalm of the Hebrew Bible enjambment is unusually conspicuous. [4] It was used extensively in England by Elizabethan poets for dramatic and narrative verses, before giving way to closed couplets. The example of John Milton in Paradise Lost laid the foundation for its subsequent use by the English Romantic poets; in its preface he identified it as one of the chief features of his verse: "sense variously drawn out from one verse into another". [3]

M. Guyot wrote "due to the enjambment of the poem contains more ideas, more feelings, it gathers, so to speak, more nervous power


The start of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot, with only lines 4 and 7 end-stopped:

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.

These lines from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (c. 1611) are heavily enjambed:

I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown.

Meaning flows as the lines progress, and the reader's eye is forced to go on to the next sentence. It can also make the reader feel uncomfortable or the poem feel like "flow-of-thought" with a sensation of urgency or disorder. In contrast, the following lines from Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595) are completely end-stopped:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punishèd.

Each line is formally correspondent with a unit of thought—in this case, a clause of a sentence. End-stopping is more frequent in early Shakespeare: as his style developed, the proportion of enjambment in his plays increased. Scholars such as Goswin König and A. C. Bradley have estimated approximate dates of undated works of Shakespeare by studying the frequency of enjambment.

Endymion by John Keats, lines 2–4:

Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us...

The song "One Night In Bankok", from the musical Chess , written by Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus, includes examples such as :

The creme de la creme of the chess world in a
Show with everything but Yul Brynner

This grips me more than would a
Muddy old river or reclining Buddha

Closely related to enjambment is the technique of "broken rhyme" or "split rhyme" which involves the splitting of an individual word, typically to allow a rhyme with one or more syllables of the split word. In English verse, broken rhyme is used almost exclusively in light verse, such as to form a word that rhymes with "orange", as in this example by Willard Espy, in his poem "The Unrhymable Word: Orange":

The four eng-
Wore orange
brassieres. [5]

The clapping game "Miss Susie" uses the break "... Hell / -o operator" to allude to the taboo word "Hell", then replaces it with the innocuous "Hello".

See also


  1. 1 2 Groves, Peter Lewis. "Run-on Line, Enjambment". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  2. Chris Baldick (30 October 2008). The Oxford dictionary of literary terms. Oxford University Press. pp. 108–. ISBN   978-0-19-920827-2 . Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Preminger 359
  4. William R. Taylor, The Book of Psalms, The Interpreters' Bible, volume VI, 1955, Abingdon Press, Nashville, p. 169
  5. Lederer, Richard (2003). A Man of my Words: Reflections on the English Language . New York: Macmillan. ISBN   0-312-31785-9.

Related Research Articles


Alexandrine is a name used for several distinct types of verse line with related metrical structures, most of which are ultimately derived from the classical French alexandrine. The line's name derives from its use in the Medieval French Roman d'Alexandre of 1170, although it had already been used several decades earlier in Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. The foundation of most alexandrines consists of two hemistichs (half-lines) of six syllables each, separated by a caesura :

o o o o o o | o o o o o o  o=any syllable; |=caesura

A couplet is a pair of successive lines of metre in poetry. A couplet usually consists of two successive lines that rhyme and have the same metre. A couplet may be formal (closed) or run-on (open). In a formal couplet, each of the two lines is end-stopped, implying that there is a grammatical pause at the end of a line of verse. In a run-on couplet, the meaning of the first line continues to the second.

A heroic couplet is a traditional form for English poetry, commonly used in epic and narrative poetry, and consisting of a rhyming pair of lines in iambic pentameter. Use of the heroic couplet was pioneered by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales, and generally considered to have been perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the Restoration Age and early 18th century respectively.

In poetry, metre or meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody.

Poetry Form of literature

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in the final stressed syllables and any following syllables of two or more words. Most often, this kind of perfect rhyming is consciously used for artistic effect in the final position of lines within poems or songs. More broadly, a rhyme may also variously refer to other types of similar sounds near the ends of two or more words. Furthermore, the word rhyme has come to be sometimes used as a shorthand term for any brief poem, such as a nursery rhyme or Balliol rhyme.

A tercet is composed of three lines of poetry, forming a stanza or a complete poem.

Poetry analysis is the process of investigating a poem's form, content, structural semiotics and history in an informed way, with the aim of heightening one's own and others' understanding and appreciation of the work.

Alliterative verse

In prosody, alliterative verse is a form of verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The most commonly studied traditions of alliterative verse are those found in the oldest literature of the Germanic languages, where scholars use the term 'alliterative poetry' rather broadly to indicate a tradition which not only shares alliteration as its primary ornament but also certain metrical characteristics. The Old English epic Beowulf, as well as most other Old English poetry, the Old High German Muspilli, the Old Saxon Heliand, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, and many Middle English poems such as Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Alliterative Morte Arthur all use alliterative verse.

Syllabic verse is a poetic form having a fixed or constrained number of syllables per line, while stress, quantity, or tone play a distinctly secondary role — or no role at all — in the verse structure. It is common in languages that are syllable-timed, such as Japanese or modern French or Finnish — as opposed to stress-timed languages such as English, in which accentual verse and accentual-syllabic verse are more common.

Chain rhyme is the linking together of stanzas by carrying a rhyme over from one stanza to the next.

This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.

This is a glossary of poetry.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to poetry:

Masculine ending and feminine ending are terms used in prosody, the study of verse form. "Masculine ending" refers to a line ending in a stressed syllable. "Feminine ending" is its opposite, describing a line ending in a stressless syllable. This definition is applicable in most cases; see below, however, for a more refined characterization.

A line is a unit of language into which a poem or play is divided. The use of a line operates on principles which are distinct from and not necessarily coincident with grammatical structures, such as the sentence or single clauses in sentences. Although the word for a single poetic line is verse, that term now tends to be used to signify poetic form more generally. A line break is the termination of the line of a poem and the beginning of a new line.

Vietnamese poetry originated in the form of folk poetry and proverbs. Vietnamese poetic structures include six-eight, double-seven six-eight, and various styles shared with Classical Chinese poetry forms, such as are found in Tang poetry; examples include verse forms with "seven syllables each line for eight lines," "seven syllables each line for four lines", and "five syllables each line for eight lines." More recently there have been new poetry and free poetry.

Classical Chinese poetry forms

Classical Chinese poetry forms are poetry forms or modes which typify the traditional Chinese poems written in Literary Chinese or Classical Chinese. Classical Chinese poetry has various characteristic forms, some attested to as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry, dating from a traditionally, and roughly, estimated time of around 10th–7th century BC. The term "forms" refers to various formal and technical aspects applied to poems: this includes such poetic characteristics as meter, rhythm, and other considerations such as vocabulary and style. These forms and modes are generally, but not invariably, independent of the Classical Chinese poetry genres. Many or most of these were developed by the time of the Tang Dynasty, and the use and development of Classical Chinese poetry and genres actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, and still continues even today in the 21st century.

Gushi is one of the main poetry forms defined in Classical Chinese poetry, literally meaning "old poetry" or "old style poetry": gushi is a technical term for certain historically exemplary poems, together with later poetry composed in this formal style.

Poetic devices are a form of literary device used in poetry. A poem is created out of poetic devices composite of: structural, grammatical, rhythmic, metrical, verbal, and visual elements. They are essential tools that a poet uses to create rhythm, enhance a poem's meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling.


Further reading