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In poetry, enjambment or enjambement (//; from the French enjambement [ɑ̃ʒɑ̃bmɑ̃]) is incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning runs-over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation. Lines without enjambment are end-stopped.
In reading, the delay of meaning creates a tension that is released when the word or phrase that completes the syntax 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.
Enjambment has a long history in poetry. Homer used the technique, and it is the norm for alliterative verse where rhyme is unknown. It was used extensively in England by Elizabethan poets for dramatic and narrative verse, before giving way to closed couplets. The example of John Milton in Paradise Lost laid the foundation for its subsequent use by the English Romantic poets; in its preface he identified it as one of the chief features of his verse: "sense variously drawn out from one verse into another".
Meaning flows as the lines progress, and the reader's eye is forced to go on to the next sentence. It can also make the reader feel uncomfortable or the poem feel like "flow-of-thought" with a sensation of urgency or disorder. In contrast, the following lines from Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595) are completely end-stopped:
Each line is formally correspondent with a unit of thought—in this case, a clause of a sentence. End-stopping is more frequent in early Shakespeare: as his style developed, the proportion of enjambment in his plays increased. Scholars such as Goswin König and A. C. Bradley have estimated approximate dates of undated works of Shakespeare by studying the frequency of enjambment.
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