Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence from one line of a poem to the next, without any specific pause, despite the break in the line, and can even run over multiple lines or stanzas.

The term originates from the French word for “to straddle.” 

Why is Enjambment used?

  • Meaning: Many poets use enjambment to extend an idea beyond just a single line, helping to make points and ideas more memorable and significant for a reader.
  • Effect: A reader could be surprised or confused by the continuation of a sentence over separate lines, or by the potential shift a poem could take without a proper break. This would be particularly noticeable if the poem already had a fast rhythm.
  • Structure: Enjambment is a useful technique for helping to create a specific rhythm or speed for a poem, which in turn, can help build various specific effects and feelings.

Examples of Enjambment

John Burnside uses enjambment to create confusion in his poem ‘History’ (Poems of the Decade).

Using a beach setting to explore ideas and reactions to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Burnside emphasises the confusion and dismay he and others felt on this day by using a highly irregular structure with frequent use of enjambment, constantly keeping the reader on edge and confused.

all nerve and line // patient; afraid…

Roderick Ford also uses enjambment to provide contrast and to shock readers in his poem ‘Giuseppe’ (Poems of the Decade).

One notable illustration is when the description of a unique mermaid on one line – indicating awe and admiration – transitions to describing its slaughter on the next. This is a great example, which shows how effective enjambment can be at creating emotions and changing to different ideas in a poem.

the only captive mermaid in the world // was butchered…

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