An Introduction to Enjambment

Enjambment consists when the sense and grammatical structure run over from one line, verse or coupletOpens in new window to the next without a punctuated pause.

In an enjambed line (also called a ‘run-on-line’), the completion of a phraseOpens in new window, clauseOpens in new window, or sentence is held over to the following line so that the line ending is not emphasized as it is in an end-stoppedOpens in new window line. (The Oxford Dict. of Literary Terms)

Notable Examples of Enjambment
    Enjambment occurs when a line which could be grammatically complete is nonetheless continued in the next line. As in:
  • Armed in bronze, but the bossed shields
    Were pressing against each other, and a great din arose.
    And then there was wailing and shouting of men
    Killing and being killed, and the earth ran with blood.”
  • — Higbie, 1990:41

Enjambment typically allows ideas to continue beyond the limitations of a single line.

In the course of reading, the delay of meaning creates a tension that is released when the word or phrase that completes the syntaxOpens in new window is encountered (called the rejet); the tension arises from the “mixed message” produced both by the pause of the line-end, and the suggestion to continue provided by the incomplete meaning.

In spite of the apparent contradiction between rhyme, which heightens closure, and enjambment, which delays it, the technique is compatible with rhymed verse. Even in couplets, the closed or heroic couplet was a late development; older is the open couplet, where rhyme and enjambed lines co-exist.