Form and Meaning in Poetry
Milton opens Paradise Lost with enjambed lines:
Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste [...]
The line ending (“fruit”) does not match the pause in the language (after “tree”). In a wonderful book on meter and versification, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing, Timothy Steele discusses enjambment and other poetic devices, and he observes that talented poets use enjambments so that they “suit the contexts in which they occur.” “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning is a dictionary of examples. For one, the Duke says of his late wife that she “had / A heart”
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, ’t was all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her [...]
In the last two lines, Steele writes, “the enjambment—the breaking of the pentameter over into the next verse [from “fool” to “Broke”]—serves as a rhythmical analogue to the activity of the branch-snapper.”
That’s pretty cool.
Go back to Paradise Lost: when Milton writes about Satan falling from Heaven, he tells us that
...Him the Almighty power Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky With hideous ruin and combustion down To bottomless perdition...
The first line here ends with a subject in need of its verb, so we have to read through the line ending. Milton in essence hurls the line down into its successor, just as God hurls Satan down into the abyss. And just as Satan keeps falling, after his initial hellward propulsion, so the pentameters keep tumbling through their line endings.
That’s really cool.
Turn enjambment inside-out and you get caesura: a mid-line pause in a poem. It too may be used expressively. In these lines from Andrew Marvell’s “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn,” “the woman who speaks the poem describes how her deer loved to chase and play with her”: