Definition of Enjambment

Enjambment, derived from a French word enjambment, means to step over or put legs across. In poetry it means moving over from one line to another without a terminating punctuation mark. It can be defined as a thought or sense, phrase or clause in a line of poetry that does not come to an end at the line break but moves over to the next line. In simple words, it is the running on of a sense from one couplet or line to the next without a major pause or syntactical break.

Features of an Enjambment

  • Enjambment lines usually do not have a punctuation mark at the end.
  • It is a running on of a thought from one line to another without final punctuation.
  • It is used in poetry to trick a reader. Poets lead their readers to think of an idea then, on the next line, give an idea that conflicts it.
  • Poets can achieve a fast pace or rhythm by using enjambment.
  • Multiple ideas can be expressed without using semi-colons, periods and commas.
  • It helps reinforce the main idea that might seem to be confusing with pauses.
  • It can be seen in different songs and poems.
  • It helps readers to continue thinking about the idea which is expressed in one line and which continues through to the next.

Examples of Enjambment from Literature

Example #1

It is a beauteous Evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven is on the Sea;
Listen! The mighty Being is awake
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder―everlastinly.
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

(It is a Beauteous Evening by William Wordsworth)

This poem is one of the perfect examples of enjambment. In this poem, every line is running over to the next while the sense is not finished at the end of lines without pause or break. Each line does not make sense and stand on its own without the next line.

Example #2

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and asleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

(Endymion by John Keats)

Endymion is a famous example of enjambment. The first and last lines in the given poem of John Keats have ends, while the middle lines are enjambed. There is a flow of thought from one line to the next.

Example #3

“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 honorable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown….”

(The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare frequently used enjambment in his plays. This extract is filled with the heavy use of enjambment. In each line, the linguistic unit finishes mid-line with acaesura. The meaning flows from one line to next, and readers are forced to read the subsequent lines.

Example #4

“April is the cruelest 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.”

(The Waste Land by T.S Eliot)

In this extract, only two lines (4 and 7) are end-stopped. The rest of the lines are enjambed. Each line is expanded unexpectedly by enjambment. The thought and sense flow into the next lines.

Functions of Enjambment

Enjambment can be used to surprise the readers by delaying the meaning of a line until the following line is read. Some writers use this technique to bring humorous effects to their work. It is good to use in verse in order to create a sense of natural motion.

In poetry, the role of enjambment is normally to let an idea carry on beyond the restrictions of a single line. Another purpose of enjambment is to continue a rhythm that is stronger than a permanent end-stopping wherein complicated ideas are expressed in multiple lines.

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