Writing Poetry: End-Stops, Enjambment, and Caesura


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Thread: Writing Poetry: End-Stops, Enjambment, and Caesura

  1. #1

    Writing Poetry: End-Stops, Enjambment, and Caesura

    I'm posting this though I'm not happy with the quality. I apologize in advance.

    Writing Poetry: End Stop, Enjambment, and Caesura


    The line in poetry differs from the line in prose in that where the line breaks on the page is determined by the poet and not by an arbitrary margin. There are a few basic ways that a poet can determine where to break a line. The first is by mandates of a form. If a poet is using a specific form or meter, that form or meter will tell the poet where to break the line. However, if the poet is writing in free verse that determination is entirely on the poet. This choice should be deliberate and inform meaning in the poem.

    In free form there are a few considerations the poet might take in to determine where and when to break his or her line. Miller Williams states in Patterns of Poetry: an Encyclopedia of Forms, “No matter how purely accentual a line may be until the end, it is the nature of the language that the last syllables in the line are going to be recognizable and the reader is going to hear them as accented or not (185).” That accent on the last few words of a line imparts import and meaning to the last words of a line. It informs the reader of the weight that word should carry.

    A line that terminates with the phrase or sentence is called end-stopped. Lewis Turco calls it “cloture,” however, other references and definitions of cloture means to bring a debate to an end. End-stopped lines bring a sense of ritual to the line. It gives the reader a pause for breath before being pulled forward. Lines ending in a comma, semi-colon, dash, or ending punctuation are all considered end-stopped.

    The opposite of an end-stopped line is enjambment. Enjambment is when the line terminates at a point other than at the end of a phrase. This tends to increase the feeling of informality and conversation. It “pulls” a reader further into the poem instead of letting them rest at the end of a line. It gives a sense of movement and of entangling ideas.

    Finally there are caesuras which are when a syntactical unit ends in the middle of a line. It’s a break in the movement or a pause in the middle of a line. These usually accompany enjambment but can also be found with end-stopped lines.

    It is also possible to use all of these in one poem. For an example of each take a look at the opening lines of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”

    Had we but world enough and time,
    This coyness, lady, were no crime.
    We would sit down, and think which way
    To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
    Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
    Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
    Of Humber would complain. I would
    Love you ten years before the flood,
    And you should, if you please, refuse
    Till the conversion of the Jews.
    The first, second, fourth, eighth, and tenth lines are end-stopped, the third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth lines are enjambed, and there are caesuras in lines two, three, four, five, six, and nine.

    Varying the way the lines break enforces the message for the poet and makes the poem sound more conversational. Marvell’s poem was published in 1681 and yet sounds very modern because of the way the lines break which emphasis the wry humor of the speaker.

    Paying attention to where, when, and why a line breaks informs meaning and enforces the sounds of a poem. Happy writing!

    Works Cited

    Hirsch, Edward. Poet's Glossary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

    Turco, Lewis. The Book of Forms. 3rd ed., University Press of New England. 2000.

    Willams, Miller. Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms. LSU Press. 1986.

    “To His Coy Mistress”. PoetryFoundation, 9 Dec 2016, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...s/detail/44688

  2. #2
    Caesura, stemming from the Latin roots of cease? An ending of a metrical foot, but not necessarily the end of the line, similar to a clause, perchance?


  3. #3
    Shouldn't "refuse" start it's own line? I think it needs parallel form to "love" -- which the poet worked hard to start a line with.

    Can I have another (modern?) example of where someone thinks enjambment worked well? I liked the example given, I just want to understand better.

    Like this?

    Reading about poetry
    to understand prose. I know
    that's strange. But
    these are techniques of writing
    Useful information you can't find anywhere else. Hidden Content s Hidden Content

  4. #4
    Darkkin, I'm not sure on the entomology but yes, that definition.

    Emma, I'll have more modern examples tomorrow. I chose this poem in particular because I felt it showed all three items under discussion. His rhyme scheme and meter is why that particular line ended with "refuse."

    I would also like to point out that end-stopped lines and enjambment have nothing to do with prose. The margins and line breaks in prose are usually decided by a publisher which makes this discussion fairly worthless for the prose-writer.
    Last edited by Ariel; December 12th, 2016 at 05:45 AM.

  5. #5
    For more modern examples:

    Quote Originally Posted by Margaret Atwood
    Pig Song

    This is what you changed me to:
    a greypink vegetable with slug
    eyes, buttock
    incarnate, spreading like a slow turnip,

    a skin you stuff so you may feed
    in your turn, a stinking wart
    of flesh, a large tuber
    of blood which munches
    and bloats. Very well then. Meanwhile

    I have the sky, which is only half
    caged, I have my weed corners,
    I keep myself busy, singing
    my song of roots and noses,

    my song of dung. Madame,
    this song offends you, these grunts
    which you find oppressively sexual,
    mistaking simple greed for lust.

    I am yours. If you feed me garbage,
    I will sing a song of garbage.
    This is a hymn.
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...s/detail/32772

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Collins
    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,

    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...s/detail/46712

  6. #6
    To try to stimulate discussion: I would focus on the start of the line, not the end. You can see me doing that in my poem, and I will make the same suggestion for Collins

    But all they want to do is
    tie the poem to a chair with rope and
    torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose to
    find out what it really means.
    Useful information you can't find anywhere else. Hidden Content s Hidden Content

  7. #7
    You're going to try to school a man who has twice been the POET LAUREATE of the United States? Emma, this discussion is about the way lines break--not how they begin.

    Not to mention, there is now emphasis with your breaks on the words "is," "and," and "to." Those are not words any poet wants to emphasize.
    Last edited by Ariel; December 13th, 2016 at 01:08 PM.

  8. #8
    What about en spaces/white space? I'll see if I can find some examples
    Last edited by PiP; December 13th, 2016 at 01:18 PM.
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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by PiP View Post
    What about em spaces? I'll see if I can find some examples
    Do you mean an em dash, Pip? Those are considered an end-stop at the end of lines and a caesura when in the middle.

  10. #10
    JMO, but I think this is one of the most difficult things to master... I understand the second example [originally posted by Billy Collins] The way the line breaks are used makes perfect sense to me. However, some poets use line breaks in ways that leave me wondering ... wondering if the line breaks were accidental, or very carefully used, and I am just not "getting it"....

    Soooo.... really... it is up to the poet?
    She lost herself in the trees,
    among the ever-changing leaves.
    She wept beneath the wild sky
    as stars told stories of ancient times.
    The flowers grew toward her light,
    the river called her name at night.
    She could not live an ordinary life,
    with the mysteries of the universe
    hidden in her eyes....
    Author: Christy Ann Martine

    Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
    love leaves a memory no one can steal....
    Author unknown.

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