What is Enjambment in poetry?
A line that carries on to the following line without stopping or pausing is called an enjambment in poetry. Instead, the sentence or phrase over flows from one poetic line to another without any major pause in between punctuation marks. It’s almost like when you are reading a poem and find yourself trailing to the next line without pause as if that line just spills over into the subsequent one.
Enjambment can make the poem flow smoothly and be continuous. It also frequently brings with it an element of surprise or urgency, as the thought is not restricted by those borders that a line sets. This, in turn, can make the poem feel more like natural speech as it avoids a stop-start rhythm where lines end with full stops or commas.
How to use enjambment in poetry?
Using enjambment in poetry is like allowing your thoughts in poetry to flow across the lines without being cut off by each end of a line. It’s somewhat like when you’re so involved in a discussion that you don’t even stop to take breath, your words simply come out one after another. Here’s how you can do it:
Let Your Sentence Cross the Line: Start by writing a sentence that is not concluded at the line end. Let it flow into the other line. This forms a connection between sentences, guiding the reader downstream of your thought process.
No Full Stops at Line Ends: Avoid ending each line with full stops, commas or any strong pauses.
Play with Surprise and Suspense: Try enjambment to make a little suspense or surprise. When the first part of a sentence builds anticipation for proceeding onto to the next line it can pique interest in readers minds and makes them eager participate into where your mind is leading at.
Natural Speech Rhythm: Attempt to use the same way people speak in real life. We often do not use well-defined sentence. Enjambment is a way to make your poem sound more like real talking, or even the series of thought.
Experiment with Breaks: Play with your line breaks. In some cases, a line break in unexpected place can accentuate the importance of certain words or ideas to your poem.
Examples of Enjambment in poetry
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;”
This verse employs enjambment over several lines to produce a reverie-type rhythm. Particularly, the first line which ends with “cloud” does not show any punctuation or complete a sentence. It does not, rather the description proceeds into second line “That floats on high o’er vales and hills” as this enjambment ties cloud imagery with narrator describing his solitary wandering that places him in association of a meandering cloud sailing above hilly landscape.
The absence of spaces and dots, along with the sentence being stretched across lines resembles a cloud effortlessly drifting over hills. The result is a somewhat soothing, calm melody that creates an imagistic picture of the narrator’s walk in lyrical fashion without harsh stops between lines. Finally the enjambment ends with the appearance of daffodils in line four. This delayed thought highlights the shock of this abrupt finding, made all the more surprising by how enjambment extends abruptly across lines without ending.
“Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,”
This couplet uses enjambment to highlight an equivalence between images on the cosmic and mundane scope by laying them across line breaks. The second line presents a number of everyday natural things such as ants, sand and eggs by spreading them across lines instead of using them to fill entire lines. The juxtaposition of these images through enjambment implies that all the pieces of nature contain equal wonder and importance.
There is a lack of hard punctuation that can be seen in the parallel flow from “grass” to the “stars”, further on through all those little things, creating one large elevated effect. The enjambment reflects the idea of everything held in balance. The use of enjambment in this exacerbate from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” allows two lines which are imagistic to be connected together with no punctuation whatsoever.
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—”
The opening line of the poem provides a great illustration to enjambment as the sentence breaks across many lines without any punctuation at the end. More specifically, the first line ends with “dreary” without any punctuation or a complete thought, rather, the account of the scene runs over into the second line with added comments on how bothersome it is and tired that she feels while thinking about different things. Finally, the sentence ends in third line with dash after preparing books that narrator is reading. Through enjambment that refuses to stop “festinating”, the reader feels engrossed in the narrator’s obsessive imagination. The dash towards the end approaches almost as if wind could not allow the narrator to completely finish vocalizing what is happening in this scene.
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;”
The extract employs enjambment to powerfully render the spinning thoughts of a tormented narrator who gazes into his increasingly darkened room. The first line finishes with “peering” without punctuation that makes sentence continue to second one. This enjambment reveals that the narrator keeps on “looking long” into the darkness. Absence of punctuation draws a breathless, run-on style reminiscent of the narrator’s obsessive thoughts streaming rapidly one after another – “wondering”, “fearing” and so on. The enjambment stretches the sentence once again into “Doubtings , dreaming dreams” before it closes and puts an end to his way of going off in a sort of misty fog by losing himself in his own imagination. The harsh “b” sounds (“doubting,” and “dared”) make this line sound tortured; the phrase, “no mortal ever dared”, presents the nightmarish aspect of his thoughts.
“If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda
“I want you to know one thing.
You know how this is:
if I look at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,”
First line starts an emphatic statement but leaves it incomplete and run into the next. This forces the reader to go ahead, which makes a sense of momentum and hurry in communication. The third line uses enjambment after the caesura to carry on its description of moon and autumn branches across the break in lines. This enjambment reflects how the moonlight and leaves fall through a window, linking visually in pictures on paper.
In general, the absence of punctuation and carrying on with phrases make this feel like a very direct passionate poem being spoken out to you. The informal, conversational tones make the intimate disclosure seem more private as if thoughts are allowed to move across lines without inhibition This stylistic choice indicates that the relationship was close and people were comfortable sharing their private emotions.
“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
“Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”
The aforesaid lines employ enjambment in order to provide an easy and fanciful journey as the poet describes his imagination being carried away into magic lands. In particular, the descriptive phrase at the end of the first line “Charm’d magic casements”, is missing punctuation marks.
It does not pause; it goes straight into the next line with “opening on foam.” The enjambment ties these images together, so the ‘magic casements’ lead effortlessly into an open sea and a land of nymphs.
There is no punctuation to break up this river of imagery; we as readers drift along its course straight into that mystical scene. The run-on effect, which carries the thought across line breaks replicates how easy it is for us to just open up the imagination onto all of these wondrous visions we perceive in our minds. The enjambment builds so that the reader isn’t jerked out of the magical universe.
The turn or pivot point in a poem, usually occurring around the end of the octave in a Petrarchan sonnet. Enjambment is often used to emphasize or heighten the effect of the volta by having it span across a line break. The volta shows how enjambment can underscore a thematic shift or turning point in a poem’s meaning or emotion.
A poem written in the form of a speech by a single person. Enjambment can be used effectively in dramatic monologues to make the speaker seem more passionate or conversational. An example is in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” where the Duke’s explanation continues across lines without pause. Dramatic monologues demonstrate how enjambment can make a poetic speaker appear more impassioned and natural.