Poetry, often regarded as the art of condensed expression, employs a myriad of techniques to convey emotions, ideas, and images. One such technique, enjambment, serves as a powerful tool for poets to manipulate the flow and rhythm of their verses. Unlike its counterpart, endstops, enjambment allows thoughts to spill over the confines of a single line, creating a sense of continuity and fluidity in poetry.
Enjambment vs. Endstops: Understanding the Difference
Endstops occur when a line of poetry concludes with a punctuation mark, such as a period, comma, or semicolon. This punctuation signals a pause, a complete thought, or a natural break, guiding the reader to pause before moving on to the next line. Enjambment, on the other hand, occurs when a sentence or phrase runs over from one poetic line to the next without a pause or break. This absence of punctuation encourages the reader to continue reading without interruption, allowing thoughts to seamlessly flow from one line to another.
The Impact of Enjambment: A Continuity of Emotion
Enjambment plays a significant role in shaping the emotional tone of a poem. By allowing thoughts to spill over, poets create a sense of urgency or excitement, pulling readers deeper into the poem’s narrative. This technique can also evoke a feeling of suspense, as readers are compelled to move swiftly from one line to the next, anticipating the resolution of a thought or idea. You can use enjambment to surprise readers by highlighting certain words and subverting expectations on the lines beneath them.
Examples of Enjambment:
From “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
In these lines, the thoughts spill over from one line to the next without pause, creating a continuous flow of imagery and ideas.
From “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost:
“He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.”
The enjambment in these lines emphasizes the speaker’s pause in a natural, contemplative manner, capturing the moment’s serenity. These examples showcase how enjambment can enhance the rhythm, flow, and emotional depth of a poem by allowing thoughts to spill over from one line to another.
From Laughter by C.W. Bryan
I laughed recently.
like opening a letter, seeing your name
scrawled out in a familiar hand,
and the words that follow just say
The enjambment here serves to enhance the suspense of the poem. Breaking after “it felt” and leaving white space between the next idea enhances the pace and suspense, urging the reader on. Breaking after “just say” delays the pay off of the idea expressed. This break gives the reader to build expectations of what they expect the words to say only to then answer them.
Enjambment is a useful tool in crafting beautiful sounds, suspense, and subverted expectations. It is an incredibly fun way to play around with the construction of your own poems. Using this tool will allow you to get the most out of your own reading and improve your own writing. Happy enjambing!