In poetry, enjambment or enjambement (pron. injámment) is incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning runs-over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation. Lines without enjambment are end-stopped.
In reading, the delay of meaning creates a tension that is released when the word or phrase that completes the syntax is encountered (called the rejet); the tension arises from the "mixed message" produced both by the pause of the line-end, and the suggestion to continue provided by the incomplete meaning. In spite of the apparent contradiction between rhyme, which heightens closure, and enjambment, which delays it, the technique is compatible with rhymed verse. Even in couplets, the closed or heroic couplet, was a late development; older is the open couplet, where rhyme and enjambed lines co-exist.
Enjambment has a long history in poetry. Homer uses the technique, and it is the norm for alliterative verse where rhyme is unknown. It was used extensively in England by Elizabethan poets for dramatic and narrative verse, before giving way to closed couplets. The example of John Milton in Paradise Lost laid the foundation for its subsequent use by the English Romantic poets; in its preface he identified it as one of the chief features of his verse: "sense variously drawn out from one verse into another".
- April is the cruellest 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."
- 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 honourable grief lodged here which burns
- Worse than tears drown.
Meaning flows as the lines progress, and the reader's eye is forced to go on to the next sentence. It can also make the reader feel uncomfortable or the poem feel like "flow-of-thought" with a sensation of urgency or disorder. In contrast, the following lines from Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595) are completely end-stopped:
- A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
- The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
- Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
- Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished.
Each line is formally correspondent with a unit of thought—in this case, a clause of a sentence. End-stopping is more frequent in early Shakespeare: as his style developed, the proportion of enjambment in his plays increased. Scholars such as Goswin König and A. C. Bradley have estimated approximate dates of undated works of Shakespeare by studying the frequency of enjambment.
- Its loveliness increases; it will never
- Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
- A bower quiet for us…
- Enjambment may be used in light verse, such as to form a word that rhymes with "orange", as in this example by Willard Espy, in his poem The Unrhymable Word: Orange:
- The four eng-
- Wore orange
- The clapping game Miss Susie, which uses the break "... Hell / -o operator" to allude to the taboo word "Hell", then replaces it with the innocuous "Hello".
- Groves, Peter Lewis. "Run-on Line, Enjambment". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- Chris Baldick (30 October 2008). The Oxford dictionary of literary terms.. Oxford University Press. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-0-19-920827-2. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Preminger 359
- Lederer, Richard (2003). A Man of my Words: Reflections on the English Language. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-31785-9.
- Preminger, Alex et al. (1993). The New Princeton Encylopedia of Poetry and Poetics. US: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02123-6.
- John Hollander, Vision and Resonance, Oxford U. Press, 1975 (especially chapter 5).
- Free online explanation with examples
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