A Twist of Enjambment

I love poetry. But when I learned poetry appreciation in elementary and secondary school, emphasis was placed on meter, and literary devices, and figures of speech.

It wasn’t until my first year of university that I formally learned to read poetry for meaning and emotion.

I think this exploration of poetry should be reversed or at least mixed, so as to maximize the learning of both the content or heart of poems and the tools poets use to create them. Poetry and poetry education would be so much more fun if we did this.

The Joy of Word Play

The ultimate writer’s and poet’s dream is to write a description or phrase so vivid that the writing ceases to exist and the reader or listener either falls into the description or phrase or jumps out of it, then utters, if even in his or her mind, an awed “wow”.

I have been trying to identify one such turn of words for close to 40 years.

It is a beautiful enjambment, with a bit of something else, found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Sea Bell, a poem worthy of both mechanical and cognitive appreciation for its elegance, emotional impact and message.

“Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving /
puffballs loomed about my knees”

Tolkien, The Sea Bell

What is That? — A Mystery

Poetry as you know typically contains verses or lines. Each line contains a thought — a creature of meaning, or portion of a thought.

When a verse and a thought finish in the same place, we say they end stop. The thought stops or completes at the end of the line. But, often, the thought continues or strides over into the next verse. The first verse is then a leg or jambe of the thought and the continuation of the thought is called enjambment (striding over).

That is what happens in the couplet quoted above from The Sea Bell. “Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving puffballs” is one thought enjambed across two verses.

But, “puffballs” is also the start of another thought: “puffballs loomed about my knees“. It serves double duty. This is a neat literary device — one of those “wow” devices, and there is no name for it.

Another Example

Recently, I found another example, while continuing to research the example from The Sea Bell.

“cuckoos are here with joyous /
shades of dark green arise!”

LiteraryDevices Editors, Short Examples of Enjambment, #5

“Shades” tethers “cuckoos are here with joyous shades” and “shades of dark green arise!” together.

Additional Devices

As English Tutor points out, “puffballs” is also a metaphor for mould or balls of spider web, and “shades is a personification as they have been shown as human beings arising to enjoy the voice of cuckoos”.

These added figures of speech colour the double duty “puffballs” and “shades” play in their respected poems. But they also confound the double duty.

Enjambment and Something Else

Enjambment is the continuation (literally, the striding over) of a thought over the end of a poetic line. It’s flip is the end stop, in which the thought ends with the line. Carrying a thought over two or more lines is common practice, perhaps more so than the end stop. But then there is the phrase that simultaneously ends one thought and begins another, often as part of an enjambment. The phrase knots the two thoughts together, creating a surprising and gratifying word play.

As nearly 40 years of wondering, research, experts, forums and just plain lurking have failed to name the device of “puffballs” and “shades”, I’ve come to the realization that any name may be so rare or non-existent that people just don’t know what it is.

So, I figured, in the spirit of writing what you want to read, that I should generate a name for this device myself.

I propose to call this special form of enjambment “within two thoughts” (intra duas cogitationes) or “knot of two thoughts” (nodum duo cogitationes).

Which do you like? Or do you have another name for this flecto enjambment (“twist of enjambment”)? Are there other unrecognized literary devices or figures of speech that you think deserve affirmation?

One thought on “A Twist of Enjambment

  1. Pingback: A Twist of Enjambment | The Write Group

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