Poetic Terms: End-stops and Enjambment

The young woman says, “July is over,
but you don’t have to go on and
on about it. There’s always August.”

And with these three lines, I’m prepared to lay out the difference between using an end-stop or enjambment at the ends of your lines. Want to really impress and flatter a fellow poet at the same time? All you need to do is talk up their wonderful use of enjambment.

Lines 1 and 3 in the above example use an end-stop, which just means that your line finishes its thought (often with the use of punctuation) before moving on to the next line.

Line 2 uses enjambment by running over into line 3. That’s right, enjambment is when you run your idea from one line into another (or many others).

So, why use one over the other? Well, the way you use end-stops and enjambment can affect the speed readers move through your poem. End-stopping tends to slow down the pace, while enjambing picks it up. Personally, I like to mix it up some to achieve certain effects within my poems, especially if I want to emphasize certain ideas or images.

If you haven’t tried using end-stops and enjambment before (or haven’t thought about it since “the good old days” of school), then you might want to try playing around with these tools in your poems. If nothing else, you can now start complimenting other poets’ end-stops and enjambments–and actually know what you’re talking about.


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6 thoughts on “Poetic Terms: End-stops and Enjambment

  1. Sue Guiney

    Yes, yes, yes. Thanks for writing this and reminding me to think about it. I know I tend to do end stops all the time (the problem with having my head full of prose at the moment), and it really is better to mix it up.

  2. ann malaspina

    Thanks. I didn’t know there were actual terms to describe end-stop and endjambment, but recently I’ve been noticing the different effects of the two techniques. I definitely need to go back to school – poetry school!

  3. Mattos da Costa

    Hey Robert! Thanks for doing this. It is bound to help many people. I would also suggest people to have a look at the wikipedia article on enjambement. It gives some nice examples.

    I think this is a good example I’d like to show y’all:
    "There were four, no three tablets on the table. They were
    blue, yellow, white, green, orange! A kaleidoscope."
    As you see by the example above, the emjambement of the list of colors really gives emphasis to the kaleidoscope idea as you forced the reader to move on to the next line to read the colors and then in two words you compare the tablets to a kaleidoscope which sometimes also give you loads of funky colors and alike.

    Just thought I’d give an example of how emjambement could work.
    Here is how end-stopping can also help loads:
    "The time.
    It continues to run, to jog, to.

    I wish I could."

    All the lines in the short verse above are end-stopped. Particularly in line 2, we get an interesting effect with the end-stop. Why? The reader sees the words to run to jog and they might start to think that the rhythm of the verse should now go faster however, right after it goes "to." This forces the reader to a halt after they have just had these two words that could produce just the opposite effect on them.
    End-stopping should be used for the reader to slow down and absorb or to give a small pause or to pass on to the next line with less speed in their reading as this is what emjambement does. It forces the reader to go on to the next line to continue reading.

    Hope my comment was helpful.


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