In poetry, enjambment (//; from the French enjambement) 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 used the technique, and it is the norm for alliterative verse where rhyme is unknown. In the 32nd Psalm of the Hebrew Bible enjambment is unusually conspicuous. 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 punishèd.
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...
The four eng-
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- 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
- William R. Taylor, The Book of Psalms, The Interpreters' Bible, volume VI, 1955, Abingdon Press, Nashville, p. 169
- 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 Encyclopedia 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