Understanding Enjambment in Poetry: Definition and Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is enjambment in poetry?
  2. How to identify enjambment
  3. Why poets use enjambment
  4. Examples of enjambment in famous poems
  5. How to use enjambment in your own poetry

Have you ever read a poem where the sentence flows over the end of a line, a couplet, or even a stanza? If so, you've witnessed the magic of enjambment—a technique that poets use to keep us on our toes. This blog post will unravel the definition of enjambment and explore examples from famous poems. By the end, you'll be able to identify and use enjambment in your own poetry. So, let's dive into the world of enjambment, shall we?

What is enjambment in poetry?

Enjambment, pronounced as en·jamb·ment, is a French word meaning 'striding over' or 'encroachment'. In the world of poetry, it refers to the practice of running sentences over the end of one line onto the next without using punctuation like a comma or period to indicate a pause.

Breaking Down the Definition of Enjambment

Now, let's break down the definition of enjambment to understand it better:

  • Continuation of a sentence: This means the sentence doesn't stop at the end of the line. It marches on, stepping over the line break.
  • Without a pause: Enjambment doesn't wait for a full stop or a comma. It doesn't pause; it just keeps going.
  • End of a line, couplet, or stanza: Enjambment can occur at the end of a single line, between two lines of a couplet, or even at the end of a stanza. It's a versatile technique!

Enjambment: A Sonic Device

Enjambment is a sonic device—that's a fancy way of saying it affects how a poem sounds when you read it out loud. Because enjambment causes a sentence to continue beyond the end of a line or stanza, it alters the rhythm and pace of the poem. It can create suspense, surprise, or emphasize a particular word or phrase. It's a powerful tool in a poet's toolkit!

Enjambment vs End-stopped Lines

So, how is enjambment different from end-stopped lines? An end-stopped line in poetry is a line that ends with a full stop or a pause. It's the opposite of enjambment. While enjambment keeps the idea flowing onto the next line, end-stopped lines wrap up the idea neatly within the line itself. Here's a simple comparison:

  • End-stopped line: The sun sets in the west.
  • Enjambed line: The sun sets in the west and the moon begins to rise.

That's the gist of the definition of enjambment. In the next sections, we'll explore why poets use this technique and check out some examples from famous poems.

How to identify enjambment

Identifying enjambment in poetry might seem like a daunting task at first, but it's not as tricky as you might think. Once you know what to look for, spotting enjambment becomes almost second nature. So, let's dive into the specifics.

Look for the Lack of Punctuations

Enjambment dances around punctuations. So, when reading a poem, if you notice a sentence spilling over to the next line without any punctuation mark at the end of the line, you've got yourself an enjambment. Remember, enjambment doesn't wait for a full stop or a pause—it just strides over the line break.

Read the Poem Out Loud

Enjambment changes the rhythm and pace of the poem. So, one of the best ways to identify enjambment is to read the poem out loud. If you find yourself naturally continuing onto the next line without a pause, then you've likely encountered an enjambment.

Identify the Idea Flow

Enjambment often carries a single idea or thought across multiple lines. If you find an idea, a sentence, or a phrase that continues over line breaks or stanzaic boundaries, it's a clear sign of the presence of enjambment in the poem.

So there you have it—the basics of how to identify enjambment in poetry. By keeping these points in mind, you'll soon be spotting enjambment like a pro. But, why do poets choose to use this technique? Let's find out in the next section.

Why poets use enjambment

Now that we know the definition of enjambment and how to spot it, let's delve a little deeper. Why do poets use this technique? There's no single answer, as the use of enjambment can serve various artistic purposes. Let's explore some of these reasons.

Creating Suspense and Intrigue

Enjambment is a master at building suspense. By pushing the completion of a thought or sentence to the next line, poets can keep the reader hanging, making them eager to know what comes next. This suspense can add a layer of intrigue and excitement to the poem.

Highlighting Important Words

Another clever use of enjambment is to highlight particular words. When a line ends with a specific word and the next line continues the thought, it naturally draws attention to that word. This tactic can be used to emphasize key themes or ideas in the poem.

Altering Rhythm and Pace

Enjambment has a significant impact on a poem's rhythm and pace. By ignoring punctuation and moving onto the next line, poets can speed up the flow or introduce unexpected turns in the poem's rhythm, keeping the reader on their toes.

So, the use of enjambment in poetry is quite strategic. It's not merely a stylistic choice, but a powerful tool that can greatly enhance the impact of a poem. Now that we know why poets use enjambment, let's look at some examples in famous poems in the next section.

Examples of enjambment in famous poems

Having delved into the definition of enjambment and its purpose, let's now explore some examples in renowned poems. This will not only enhance our understanding but also help us appreciate its effectiveness.

'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot

In this iconic poem, Eliot expertly uses enjambment to create a sense of disorientation and fragmentation, mirroring the chaotic world he portrays. Here's a snippet:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

The enjambment in these lines emphasizes the disjointed, chaotic nature of Eliot's modernist masterpiece.

'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost

Robert Frost's famous poem offers a different use of enjambment to create suspense and highlight the narrator's indecision:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

Notice how the continuation of sentences into the next line keeps you reading, eager to know which path the speaker will choose.

These examples illustrate the versatility of enjambment in poetry — it can be used to create a range of effects, from suspense and emphasis to altering pace and rhythm. Now, let's move on to how you can use enjambment in your own poetry.

How to use enjambment in your own poetry

Now that we've explored the definition of enjambment and seen how it works in famous poems, you might be curious about how to use this technique in your own writing. Let's jump right in.

Start with Free Verse

Free verse, a type of poetry that doesn't follow any specific meter or rhyme scheme, is a great place to start experimenting with enjambment. Why? Because it gives you the freedom to play around with line breaks and sentence structure. Try writing a free verse poem and see where natural pauses occur — that's where you can place your line breaks.

Use it for Emphasis

Remember, one of the main functions of enjambment is to draw attention to a particular word or phrase. Use it to highlight an important image, emotion, or idea in your poem. Think about what you want your reader to focus on, then use enjambment to make it stand out.

Control the Pace

Enjambment can also affect the pace of your poem. If you want to speed things up, use more enjambment — the reader will naturally want to continue to the next line. On the other hand, if you want to slow things down, use less enjambment and more end-stopped lines (lines that end with a punctuation mark).

Ultimately, the best way to learn to use enjambment effectively is to practice. Try it out in your own poetry and see what works for you. As with any tool in writing, the key is to use it with intention.

If you're looking to improve your poetry skills and incorporate enjambment effectively, we recommend checking out 'Writing From Memory - Part 2' by Charlie Brogan. This workshop will help you explore various techniques in poetry, including enjambment, to create powerful and memorable verses.