Poetic Terminology: Enjambment

By Nikki Anne Schmutz

As a poet, it is vital to know poetry terminology! Awareness of the devices used to create specific poetry styles will help us broaden our own style and skill. As we learn – we recognize the device, we see how other writers utilize it in their poetry, and we begin to dabble in something new. Creating our own version of something we learn is like the final exam of self-study.

Today we look at the use of enjambment. In definition, the running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break. Enjambment literally means: to stride over. It is French in origins, circa 1930’s.

When using enjambment as a poetic device, one must feel the flow of their poetry, the meter presented. Breath and meter is a pronouncement in this style of this type poetry. Trailing off a thought from one line to the next is not easily done. You can’t neglect the words or meter when applying enjambment.

Here is the beginning of “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, with only lines 4 and 7 end at an actual stopping point –

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.”

E.E. Cummings was the master of enjambment! Most of his work I can’t even show you here on fb – the formatting won’t show correctly. Here is part of his poem titled “As Is The Sea Marvelous”.

as is the sea marvelous
from god’s
hands which sent her forth
to sleep upon the world

and the earth withers
the moon crumbles
one by one
stars flutter into dust

but the sea
does not change
and she goes forth out of hands and
she returns into hands

and is with sleep….

the breaking

of your
my lips

Here is a poem of my own where I used enjambment:

Front Porch Thoughts
by Nikki Anne Schmutz

There are nights, I
sit alone on my porch –
waiting as evening slides
beyond the horizon, until
the neighbors have
all gone indoors.

I wait until I can be alone
in the air cooled by  dusk, as
day relaxes into night.
My eyes reach skyward,
my mind considers
a universe beyond my sight.

Below the brilliant sky
I commune with the heavens above,
as my feet touch the earth below.
Here I find harmony, between
the seen and unseen.
I enfold myself in possibilities.

I am but an ant in the scheme of
God and his plan.
Yet, I cannot betray the thought –
I am more than I seem.
Matchless me, unique in ways
valuable only to those who love me.

Let’s practice some enjambment!


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