Enjambment: Pause-Free Line Breaks.

 

Just because a line breaks doesn’t mean you need to pause, breathe, and wait to keep reading. Pause-free line breaks, technically referred to as enjambed lines, are ubiquitous in poetry and occur when a thought runs on from one line, or stanza, to the next. Enjambed lines prompt readers to barrel on through without pausing at line breaks. The word enjambment, from French enjamber, literally means ‘to stride over’, and is exactly what William Carlos Williams does in ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’.

 

The Red Wheelbarrow

 

so much depends

upon

 

a red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens

 

1923

 

 

Comprehensive interpretations of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ can be found here: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/williams/wheelbarrow.htm

 

Another brilliant example of enjambment occurs in ‘The Day Lady Died’ by Frank O’Hara.

 

The Day Lady Died

BY FRANK O’HARA

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me

 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with

her face on it

 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

1959

Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died” from Lunch Poems.

 

Song

BY FRANK O’HARA

Is it dirty

does it look dirty

that’s what you think of in the city

 

does it just seem dirty

that’s what you think of in the city

you don’t refuse to breathe do you

 

someone comes along with a very bad character

he seems attractive. is he really. yes. very

he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

 

that’s what you think of in the city

run your finger along your no-moss mind

that’s not a thought that’s soot

 

and you take a lot of dirt off someone

is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly

you don’t refuse to breathe do you

1959

Frank O’Hara, “Song” from Lunch Poems.

 

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