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Many formalist “purists” dislike enjambment, fearing that it threatens their end-stopping rhymes and destroys the natural “flow” of a poem. Let’s discuss that idea.

Enjambment or "running-on" means that the end of a line doesn't necessarily coincide with a natural break in syntax, even though the line itself may fit into a metric scheme eg.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

-- Shelley, "Ozymandias"


When we read a poem in a set meter like iambic pentameter, it's expected that the lines will be end-stopped ie. each line will contain a complete phrase and be end-punctuated. Enjambment -- while still following the rules of meter and rhyme -- alters the way a line is read and has an effect on speed and tension. Often enjambment produces a caesura (hard pause or break) in lines which changes the pace at which a line is read. Enjambment creates a contrast between meter and syntax, which we expect to be "in synch", so it will often make us pause and possibly re-read a section. In this way, enjambment actually changes the direction in which a poem is read. We are thrown off balance, consciously or otherwise. Enjambment can add dimension to the meaning of a poem and creates ambiguity -- as you read it, you're expecting an end-stopped line and you read the line as if it has stopped, so discovering that the phrase is incomplete requires an adjustment. Enjambment also helps to soften rhyme and make a poem sound more like natural speech (as do caesuras).

Milton's sonnets are a brilliant example, like this one:

When I consider how my light is spent (sonnet XIX)

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state
Is kingly: Thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

(Admittedly, Milton was a lot better at using enjambment than he was in coming up with creative titles for his poems.)

So yes, the accusations are true: enjambment DOES interrupt the flow of a poem for the reader. It's supposed to -- and it's just as important to consider the effects of enjambment in a piece of free verse as formal poetry. Are you breaking your lines where you do for a reason, or is it just arbitrary? The poetic line is a powerful tool, the strongest unit you have in your poem -- don't waste it.

Admittedly, Milton was a lot better at using enjambment than he was in coming up with creative titles for his poems.)

Perhaps he considered anything more to be frivolous. I have always known this as 'Milton on his Blindness'.

It is a very handy and clear exposition of enjamb(e)ment. I hope your birthday did not inhibit you from declaiming, say:

I've had liquid larfs in bars and
I've hurled from moving cars; but
If I had to choose the spot
To regurgitate the lot, I'd
Chunder in the old Pacific Sea Big Grin
(10-19-2011, 04:54 AM)abu nuwas Wrote: [ -> ]I've had liquid larfs in bars and
I've hurled from moving cars; but
If I had to choose the spot
To regurgitate the lot, I'd
Chunder in the old Pacific Sea Big Grin

AbuBig Grin

Well me I’d pass it back more larfs
and rolling out the sack I’d boof "chuck up"
anywhere but here
or back it goes, I throw’sit
hiBig Grin I never fears bar cheers.


(06-04-2011, 09:33 AM)Leanne Wrote: [ -> ]So yes, the accusations are true: enjambment DOES interrupt the flow of a poem for the reader. It's supposed to -- and it's just as important to consider the effects of enjambment in a piece of free verse as formal poetry. Are you breaking your lines where you do for a reason, or is it just arbitrary? The poetic line is a powerful tool, the strongest unit you have in your poem -- don't waste it.
for me the interruption you speak of (in the 1st 2 lines) are intended, and can usually be seen as such. that said; i see lots of poems where it looks like the poet has over worked the enjambment to such an extent that it begins to look like bird shit style syntax. (no disrespect to anyone, i'm generalising here) often if they just went with the flow the endjambs would usually work well. but of course we all want to be poets so we monkey around a bit and smile to ourselves thing; "fuck me, that was clever" when in fact they do want fucking but not because they're enjambment was clever; more so the opposite, and they need to take a step back and read the piece out loud. i think enjambment can make or break a poem, for me it's often the latter because being clever doesn't always equate with being good. jmo

me extremely bad, i thought this was in poetry discussion Blush sorry about that leanne. and good post Smile (feel free to delete me if it doesn't fit in the thread)
Might as well discuss it here as anywhere Smile I can always move it to discussion if you like. Might be worthwhile.
you're shout either way boss
Discussion it is, then...
what is the main thing we do wrong when employing what is one most important poetic devices.
i know that often, i over endjamb if that's possible. i mean to enjamb where i do but i'm doing it in the wrong effin place
(03-19-2012, 01:35 PM)billy Wrote: [ -> ]what is the main thing we do wrong when employing what is one most important poetic devices.
i know that often, i over endjamb if that's possible. i mean to enjamb where i do but i'm doing it in the wrong effin place

I think this is MOST people's transgression when using enjambment, but still, I like it as a device. Perhaps it has just been too over used since oh, I dunno, around Woolf's time? Still, she did it well and I would love that ability to know when to stop.
I like a little enjambment. I've used it to break apart a sentence to expose two different meanings in it that would otherwise be overlooked as a whole. An example from one I am currently constructing:

"I can’t stand to listen to the music
I long to hear, but my heart can't swallow
what my ears love most, the rich sound.. hollow,
full of emptiness; I’m muse sick."

L1 is a full thought on its own, but as a sentence it is still connected to the next line. By breaking it there, the split starts a pseudo-sentance that is slightly different in meaning. It's not a perfect example, but hey, I'm still working on this one (c=