What Is Is The Effect Of Enjambment In Poetry


Enjambment has been a part of poetry since its inception—and, yet, its intricate effects on the aesthetics and resonance of poetry remain relatively mysterious. Enjambment, which is defined as the continuation of a sentence from a line to the next without the natural conclusion, is a “loosening” of poetic lines that allows for a broader, often smoother flow of creativity. This “loosening,” however, can have an array of effects on the language of poetry, from manipulating its pacing to altering the way readers make meaning from the words.

What is Enjambment?

Enjambment is a poetic device whereby a sentence flows from one line into the next without a natural conclusion. Think of enjambment as a way to let the poets wander away from the convention of making each line complete by itself. In essence, it creates a pause in the poem while still allowing the poem to flow.
In terms of etymology, the word “enjambment” comes from the French phrase enjamber, which means “to step over.” Therefore, when applied to poetry, enjambment can be viewed as a kind of stepping over or transcending of artificial boundaries, as it “paces” the lines of a poem and keeps the readers engaged. Essentially, it can be seen as a way for the poet to command their words to step over the natural boundaries of the line and into the next.

Effects of Enjambment

Enjambment can have a dramatic effect on the reader’s experience of the poem. It can create an atmosphere of anticipation and surprise, which can keep the readers engaged. It can also be used to create a tension or mood of suspense, as well as to introduce various plot twists and turns.
In addition, enjambment can be used to manipulate the pace of the poem, allowing the poet to control its rhythm. This can be especially effective when combined with other poetic devices such as rhyme and meter. By using enjambment to control the pace of the poem, a poet can impart a certain emotion or feeling to the readers.
Another effect of enjambment is that it can change the way readers parse the information. It can be used to subtly alter the way readers perceive a sentence by blocking words or phrases that could alter the meaning of the sentence. For example, a poet could phrase a sentence in such a way that a reader will automatically assume that a particular word is present in the next line. This can create an interesting subtext or message in the poem that may escape otherwise.

Notable Uses of Enjambment

Enjambment has been used by some of the greatest poets in history, such as Walt Whitman and Alfred Tennyson. For instance, Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” is an excellent example of how the poetic device can be used to create an intriguing and emotive ambiance. In the opening lines, Whitman has employed a strong example of enjambment, which has a dramatic effect on the poetic pacing:
“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle, Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child leaving his bed wander’d alone, bareheaded, barefoot.”
Tennyson, on the other hand, has frequently utilized enjambment throughout his works in order to attain a particular cadence, such as in the first stanza of “The Lady of Shalott”:
“On either side the river lieLong fields of barley and of rye,That clothe the wold and meet the sky;And thro’ the field the road runs byTo many-tower’d Camelot;And up and down the people goGazing where the lilies blowRound an island there below,The Island of Shalott.”

Literary Criticism of Enjambment

Enjambment has received considerable criticism from literary theorists and critics. While some admire the device as a way to create original forms of poetry, others find it to be an unstructured, formless tool. For example, there have been criticisms that enjambment can be used to “weaken” a poetic flow and reduce the power of a sentiment.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, enjambment has been used by many poets for centuries. The device is by no means a tool of “lazy” writing and has the potential to create a sharp, resonating effect in a poem, if used correctly. When employed thoughtfully and deliberately, it can be one of the most powerful components of a poem.

Contemporary Uses of Enjambment

Enjambment continues to be an integral part of contemporary poems, with many poets utilizing the technique in a variety of ways. For example, the poem “Falling Asleep: An Acrostic,” by Terrance Hayes, uses enjambment to great effect. In this poem, the enjambment not only adds an extra level of depth to the poem but also alters the overall narrative.
T.S Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” also features enjambment to a great degree. In the poem, Eliot employs enjambment to shift between ideas and concepts, as well as to control the atmosphere of the poem. This particular use of enjambment allows the poem to move seamlessly from one feeling or concept to another, creating a haunting and evocative effect.

Enjambment in Contemporary Poetry

Enjambment is a fundamental tool for writers of contemporary poetry. With its ability to manipulate the flow and pacing of a poem, enjambment can be a powerful literary device for creating truly captivating poetry. The use of this device has been growing in recent years, especially among younger poets, and many are utilizing enjambment to create dynamic and innovative works.
One notable example of contemporary poetry that employs enjambment is “The Heat,” by Danez Smith. In this poem, Smith makes use of enjambment to control the rhythm and pacing of the poem, as well as to create a strong atmosphere of tension. Through a series of abrupt and unexpected shifts, Smith crafts a poem that is both arresting and mesmerizing.

Enjambment in Popular Music

Enjambment is also a fundamental device in popular music, and has been present in a variety of genres for centuries. For example, the blues, which has its roots in folk music, makes frequent use of the technique to create a unique rhythm and flow. Similarly, some hip-hop and rap artists also utilize the device to create stark and powerful lyrics.
One of the most famous examples of enjambment in popular music is in Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In the song, Dylan employs enjambment to effectively combine lines and ideas, often to poignant and powerful effect. The result is a song that captures the essence of the times and speaks to an entire generation.


Enjambment is a powerful poetic device with an array of implications for the reader’s experience of the poem. It can be used to manipulate the pacing and atmosphere of the poem, as well as to add an extra level of depth and nuance to the poetic language. In addition, the device has been used for centuries by some of the greatest poets in history, as well as in contemporary poetry and popular music. Enjambment is, therefore, an integral part of the world of poetry and language, and undoubtedly merits further exploration.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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