Enjambment: Usage & Examples in Poetry
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is enjambment?
  2. How to identify enjambment in poetry
  3. The role of enjambment in poetry
  4. Enjambment examples in modern poetry
  5. Enjambment examples in classical poetry
  6. How to use enjambment in your own poetry

When it comes to poetry, there are many tools poets use to create rhythm, provoke emotion, and engage readers. One such tool is enjambment. Now, you may be asking, "What is this enjambment, and how does it work in poetry?" Well, let's dive in and explore the definition of enjambment together.

What is enjambment?

Before we delve into the meaty parts, let's first lay the foundation by answering the question, "What is enjambment?"

Enjambment: The Basic Definition

Enjambment, pronounced as en-jamb-ment, is a term in poetry that refers to the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line break. In other words, the idea or phrase spills over from one line to the next without any form of punctuation to signal a pause. This technique lends an uninterrupted and swift movement to the verse.

The Etymology of Enjambment

The word 'enjambment' comes from the French word 'enjambement,' which means to stride over or straddle. This term perfectly encapsulates its function in poetry: it's as if the sentence strides over the expected pause at the end of the line, moving fluidly onto the next.

Enjambment vs. End-stopped Lines

Now that you're getting the hang of the definition of enjambment, it's important to understand its contrast — end-stopped lines. In an end-stopped line, a line of poetry ends with a piece of punctuation, like a period or a comma. This punctuation provides a pause before moving on to the next line. Enjambment, on the other hand, avoids this pause, allowing the sentence to flow into the next line uninterrupted.

So, to put it simply, enjambment is like a sentence in a footrace, rushing over the finish line without a pause, while an end-stopped line is more like a leisurely walk, taking its time to stop and enjoy the view before moving on.

Now that we've covered the definition of enjambment, let's move on to discuss how to identify it in poetry, its role, and even some examples. Stay tuned!

How to identify enjambment in poetry

Now that we've firmly grasped the definition of enjambment, the next step is to figure out how to identify it in poetry. It's simpler than you might think!

Spotting the Lack of Punctuation

One of the easiest ways to identify enjambment is to look for a lack of punctuation at the end of a line. If a sentence or idea continues onto the next line without a period, comma, or semicolon in sight, you're likely looking at enjambment.

Read Out Loud

Another great tip for spotting enjambment is to read the poem out loud. When you read a poem that uses enjambment, you'll notice a certain "spillover" effect — the sentence will naturally flow into the next line, as if it's in a hurry. Listening to the rhythm can help you identify this poetic tool.

Look for Unexpected Pauses

Enjambment can often create an unexpected pause in the middle of a thought, rather than at the end of a line. This can create a sense of anticipation or surprise. So, when you're reading a poem and find yourself pausing in unexpected places, you might be experiencing the effects of enjambment!

Armed with these tips, you're now well-equipped to identify enjambment in poetry. Let's move on to understanding the role it plays in the world of verse!

The role of enjambment in poetry

Understanding the definition of enjambment is one thing, but grasping the role it plays in poetry can really deepen our appreciation of verse. Let's dive in and see how this simple technique can add layers of meaning to a poem.

Creating Rhythm and Pace

One of the most significant roles of enjambment in poetry is its ability to influence rhythm and pace. By breaking up a sentence or thought across multiple lines, poets can control how quickly or slowly the reader moves through the poem. This can add energy, urgency, or even a sense of calmness, depending on the context.

Enhancing Emotion and Mood

Enjambment can also heighten the emotional impact of a poem. When a thought spills over into the next line, it can create anticipation or suspense, drawing the reader in and intensifying the emotional payoff. It's a clever way poets keep us emotionally engaged.

Adding Surprise and Complexity

Finally, enjambment can add an element of surprise or complexity to a poem. By disrupting the expected pattern, it can make us see familiar words or ideas in a new light. This can add depth and richness to a poem, making it a more rewarding read.

Now that we've explored the many roles of enjambment in poetry, we can better appreciate this poetic tool when we see it in action. So, let's take a look at some examples next!

Enjambment examples in modern poetry

Now that we have a solid understanding of the definition of enjambment, and how it influences the rhythm, mood, and complexity of a poem, let’s move onto some examples in modern poetry. We will see how these contemporary poets artfully employ enjambment to bring their verses to life.

Example 1: "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot

In his poem "The Waste Land," T.S. Eliot uses enjambment to create a sense of fragmentation and disconnection—a fitting technique for a poem that explores the bleakness of modern life. For instance:

"April is the cruelest month, breeding
     Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
     Memory and desire, stirring
     Dull roots with spring rain."

The thought breaks across several lines, creating a fragmented effect that mirrors the poem's themes.

Example 2: "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" provides another example of enjambment in modern poetry. Here, Plath uses enjambment to create a breathless, urgent rhythm:

"You do not do, you do not do
     Any more, black shoe
     In which I have lived like a foot
     For thirty years, poor and white"

The lack of punctuation at the end of the first three lines forces us to read on quickly, mimicking the speaker's emotional intensity.

As we can see, modern poets use enjambment in a variety of creative ways, adding depth and richness to their work. Next, let's take a look at how classic poets used this technique.

Enjambment examples in classical poetry

Now, let's journey back in time and explore how classic poets made use of enjambment. The definition of enjambment hasn't changed over the ages—what has changed is how poets have embraced and experimented with this technique. So without further ado, let's dive into some examples.

Example 1: "Paradise Lost" by John Milton

John Milton's epic poem, "Paradise Lost," is an excellent example of enjambment in classical poetry. Here's an excerpt:

"The world was all before them, where to choose
      Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
      They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
      Through Eden took their solitary way."

By breaking the thought across lines, Milton creates a flowing, uninterrupted rhythm that matches the grandeur of his subject matter.

Example 2: Sonnets by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare, the master of sonnets, often used enjambment to surprise his readers and add complexity to his verses. Let's look at an example from Sonnet 116:

"Love is not love
      That alters when it alteration finds,
      Or bends with the remover to remove:
      O no! it is an ever-fixed mark"

The lines flow into each other, creating a seamless thought that enhances the portrayal of love's constancy.

As we've seen, both modern and classical poets have used enjambment to add a unique flair to their work. Whether you're a fan of modern verses or classic sonnets, understanding enjambment can certainly enhance your appreciation of poetry.

How to use enjambment in your own poetry

Feeling inspired by the classic and modern examples we've looked at? You might be thinking, "How can I include enjambment in my own poetry?" Well, you're in luck because that's exactly what we're going to cover next.

Step 1: Understand the concept

Before you can start using enjambment, it's important to understand the definition of enjambment. Remember, it's all about carrying a thought, phrase, or sentence beyond the line break without any punctuation at the end of the line.

Step 2: Experiment with line breaks

Now, let's move on to the fun part: writing! Try writing a few lines of poetry. Don't worry about enjambment just yet, just write. Once you've done that, experiment with breaking those lines at different points to create enjambment. It might feel a bit strange at first, but that's okay. Keep playing around with it and see what happens.

Step 3: Create suspense and surprise

One of the great things about enjambment is its ability to create suspense and surprise. By breaking a line in an unexpected place, you can keep your readers on their toes. Think about how you can use this in your own poetry. Can you break a line in a way that adds a twist to your poem?

Remember, poetry is all about self-expression. Don't be afraid to break the rules and make your poem your own. By understanding and experimenting with enjambment, you can add a new layer of depth and complexity to your poetry. So, why not give it a shot?

If you enjoyed learning about enjambment in poetry and want to further develop your poetic skills, check out the workshop 'Writing From Memory - Part 2' by Charlie Brogan. This workshop will help you explore the power of memory in poetic writing and provide you with techniques to create evocative and emotionally resonant poetry.