Tag Archives: Havelok

The (Re-)Invention of Enjambment

Setting about a guide to poetics throws up some simple, central and yet terrifyingly big questions.  When, for example, does enjambment (re-)start in English verse?  Enjambed lines of verse are frequent in Old English, but much less common in pre-1350 poetry.  Donka Minkova’s excellent introduction to ‘The Forms of Verse’ in Peter Brown’s A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture c. 1350-c.1500 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007) asserts that before Chaucer ‘Middle English verse was end-stopped, meaning that each line-ending coincided with a major syntactic break – the end of a clause or phrase’ (p. 187).  Chaucer is claimed as the re-originator of a ‘new and unexpected’  (p. 188) verse innovation, namely enjambed or run-on lines ‘in which a syntactic […] unit straddles two lines’.  She gives as examples House of Fame 349–50 and 582–83.

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