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Writing

End Stops and Enjambment in Poetry: Definitions and Examples

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 23, 2020 • 4 min read

There are two ways to end a line of verse: the end-stop and the enjambment. Learn more about these literary devices with examples of when to use each.

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What Is an End-Stop in Poetry?

In poetry, an end-stop refers to a pause at the end of a poetic line. An end-stop can be marked by a period (full stop), comma, semicolon, or other punctuation denoting the end of a complete phrase or cause, or it can simply be the logical end of a complete thought. End-stops allow the reader to pause at each line break, which makes them ideal for highly structured poems with regular rhythm and rhyme schemes.

2 Examples of End Stop in Poetry

It’s not hard to find examples of end-stopped poetry: The most common and familiar way to end a line of poetry is with a pause, often denoted by a punctuation mark. Closely examining end-stopped poetry can help you understand its uses.

William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” is a great example of end-stopped poetry. Written in iambic pentameter, the poem begins with a question, and each subsequent line ends with a colon, comma, or semicolon, until the last line, which ends with a full stop. The end-stops emphasize the regular structure of this famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This excerpt from Keats’s “Endymion” features both end-stopped lines and enjambment:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

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What Is Enjambment?

Enjambment, in contrast to an end-stop, is when the end of a phrase extends past the end of a line. The definition of “enjambment” in French is “to step over.” In poetry, this means that a thought “steps over” the end of a line and into the beginning of the next line, with no punctuation, so that the reader must read through the line break quickly to reach the conclusion of the thought. You can think of enjambment as the opposite of an end-stop. Whereas end-stops are popular with more structured poetry, enjambment is more common in free verse.

2 Examples of Enjambment in Poetry

In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare makes an exception to his usual end-stopped lines with this more colloquial speech from Hermione:

There's some ill planet reigns:
I must be patient till the heavens look
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords,

I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords,

With thoughts so qualified as your charities
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so
The king's will be perform'd!

This excerpt from the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is a famous example of enjambment, but it also includes end-stopped lines. The long sentences and enjambment allow for end rhyme that creates a strong sense of rhythm in this poem:

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.

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