What is Enjambment?

Enjambment comes from a French term that means, literally, to step over or straddle something. It refers to a line of poetry that does not have a terminal punctuation mark, especially where the concept in the first line is enhanced, or even contradicted, by the continuation of the same thought in the second line.

At the very least, enjambment helps to create new rhythms and pauses in a poem. What the best enjambment does, however, is create a double meaning that enhances the theme of the poem or play.

Here is a good example from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale: “stopping the career/of laughter with a sigh.” The line breaks with “stopping the career,” and that is where the reader’s thoughts end for a brief moment as well. We think of career as a profession. Continuing on to read the completion of the phrase, the reader learns that “career” means habit, not profession. We not only move from the cerebral back into the emotional realm; we also think of emotions as a lifelong burden that lovers must assume, which helps to develop the theme of the dialogue.

Examples of Enjambment

Enjambment Example 1. One Direction uses enjambment effectively in “Best Song Ever”:

“Maybe it’s the way she walked

straight into my heart and stole it.”

Enjambment Example 2. William Carlos Williams creates an entire poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” with open, enjambed couplets:

“so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Enjambment Example  3. In “Endymion,” John Keats pens his famous line, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” followed by enjambment”:

“Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness. . .”

Enjambment Example 4. Ravi Shankar has an exceptional example of enjambment between these two stanzas of “Lines on a Skull”:

Start spirit; behold
the skull. A living head loved
earth. My bones resign

the worm, lips to hold
sparkling grape’s slimy circle,
shape of reptile’s food.

Enjambment Example 5. Almost every line in the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” contains enjambment:

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


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