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About Poetry
Poetry • Outline • Explication

Theme • Plot • Style
Character • Setting • Voice
Writer • Writer's block

Poetic diction

Imagery • Figures of speech
Metaphor • Simile
Homeric simile
Personification • Pathetic fallacy
Synecdoche  • Metonymy
Conceit • Extended metaphor
Allegory • Motif • Symbol
Pun • Double entendre
Ambiguity • Idiom


Alliteration • Assonance
Consonance • Rhyme
Repetition • Refrain


Line • Enjambment • Caesura
Foot • Meter • Verse • Stanza

Verse forms

Epic • Narrative • Lyric • Ode
Dramatic monologue • Ballad
Blank verse • Heroic couplets
Sestina • Sonnet • Villanelle
List of poetic forms

Modern poetry

Free verse • Prose poetry
Haiku in English • Tanka

Much, much more ...

Collaborative poetry
Glossary of poetry terms
How to - topics


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A line break in poetry occurs where one line of a poem ends and a new line begins.

A line break does not need to coincide with a grammatical break (the end of a phrase, clause, or sentence, which is usually indicated by punctuation). A line break does not even need to be at the end of a word (although line breaks in mid-word are unusual, and draw attention to themselves).

Terminology Edit

The right-hand side of a line is called the line end, and the last word in the line is called the line's end word.

A dropped line is a line broken into two parts, in which the second part is indented to remain visually sequential. If a line is broken in the middle of a word, to rhyme with another line, the result is called broken rhyme .

Line breaks divide a poem into smaller units called lines, which can then be interpreted in terms of their self-contained meanings and aesthetic values: hence, terms like "good line".

Lines can rhyme, in the same way as words. Rhyming of lines (called end-rhyme) is one of the most powerful tools a poet has of tying two lines together.

Line breaks, indentations, and the lengths of individual words determine the visual shape of the poetry on the page, which is a common and important site of aesthetic investment.

In metered poetry, the places where the lines are broken must coincide with a number of feet.

End-stopping and enjambmentEdit

The result of the division into lines is to set up a second reading of the words, the metrical running parallel to the grammatical, each with its own set of breaks. A line break and a grammatical break can coincide, in which case the measure and the meaning reinforce each other; such a line is called end-stopped . An end-stopped line break may serve to emphasize a pause or a silence, to signal a change of movement or to suppress or highlight certain internal features of the poem (such as a rhyme or slant rhyme).

Alternatively line breaks and grammatical breaks can be in different places, which sets up a tension between the two readings. There are two such cases. First, there may be a line break where there is no grammatical break; such a line is called enjambed, and the technique of using such lines is called enjambment. Second, there may be a grammatical break where there is no line break; such an internal break within a line is called a caesura .


Another tension that can result from line breaking is ambiguity: the possibility of alternate meanings to a line. A line is not a unit of sense; but a line can be read on its own, and can have a sense as a set of words, and therefore be read by a reader in that way, differently from the syntactical units of which the same words form parts. In this way poems' forms can imbue their contents with intensities and corollary meanings that would not have been possible to the same degree in other forms of text.

An example may be taken from E.E. Cummings' poem 'old age sticks':

old age

scolds Forbid
den Stop
n't Don't

ee cummings, old age sticks

The line break within 'must/n't' allows a double reading of the word as both 'must' and 'mustn't', whereby the reader is made aware that old age both enjoins and forbids the activities of youth. At the same time, the line break subverts 'mustn't': the forbidding of a certain activity—in the poem's context, the moral control the old try to enforce upon the young—only serves to make that activity more enticing.

Shakespeare and line breaksEdit

While Cumming's line breaks are used in a poetic form that is intended to be appreciated through a visual, printed medium, line breaks are also present in poems predating the advent of printing. Some examples are to be found, for instance, in Shakespeare's sonnets; however, some Early ModernistsTemplate:Who would argue that such a effect wasn't consciously intended by Shakespeare to be read as line breaks, which arise from the advent of printing as a method of distribution, which has a contextual effect upon that which is to be distributed. Here are two examples of this technique operating in different ways in Shakespeare's Cymbeline : In the first example, the line break between the last two lines cuts them apart, emphasizing the cutting off of the head:

With his own sword,
Which he did wave against my throat, I have ta'en
His head from him.

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

In the second example, the text before the line break retains a meaning in isolation from the contents of the new line. This meaning is encountered by the reader before it being modified by the text after the line break, which clarifies that, instead of "I, as a person, as a mind, am 'absolute,'" it 'really' means: "I am absolutely sure it was Cloten":
I am absolute;

'Twas very Cloten.

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Some interpreters would argue that the 'first' meaning is preserved in the realm of the metatext. Where the lines are broken in relation to the ideas in the poem also affects the feeling of reading the poetry. For example, the feeling may be jagged or startling versus soothing and natural, which can be used to reinforce or contrast the ideas in the poem. Lines are often broken between words, but there is certainly a great deal of poetry where at least some of the lines are broken in the middles of words: this can be a device for achieving inventive rhyme schemes. Prose poetry is poetry without line breaks. Enjambment is when the line break comes in the middle of a sentence. Alternation between enjambment and end-stopped lines is characteristic of some complex and well composed poetry, such as in Milton's Paradise Lost. A new line can begin with a lowercase or capital letter. New lines beginning with lowercase letters vaguely corresponds with the shift from earlier to later poetry: for example, the poet John Ashbery usually begins his lines with capital letters prior to his 1991 book-length poem "Flow-Chart", whereas in and after "Flow-Chart" he almost invariably begins lines with lowercase letters unless the beginning of the line is also the beginning of a new sentence. There is, however, some much earlier poetry where new lines begin with lowercase letters. Beginning a line with an uppercase letter when the beginning of the line does not coincide with the beginning of a new sentence is called "majusculation".

Quoting line breaks Edit

Short quotations of poetry can be written in quotes with line breaks indicated by the forward slash (/). For example: "...What in me is dark,/ Illumine! what is low, raise and support!"(Milton, Paradise Lost). A stanza break can be indicated by the forward slash doubled (//).

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