is a unit of language into which a poem
is divided. The use of a line operates on principles which are distinct from and not necessarily coincident with grammatical
structures, such as the sentence
or single clauses in sentences. Although the word for a single poetic line is verse
, that term now tends to be used to signify poetic form more generally.
A line break
is the termination of the line of a poem and the beginning of a new line.
The process of arranging words using lines and line breaks is known as lineation
, and is one of poetry's defining features.
A distinct numbered group of lines in verse is normally called a stanza
. A title, in some poems, is considered a line.
General conventions in Western poetry
Conventions that determine what might constitute line
in poetry depend upon different constraints, aural characteristics or scripting
conventions for any given language. On the whole, where relevant, a line is generally determined either by units of rhythm
or repeating aural
patterns in recitation
that can also be marked by other features such as rhyme
, or by patterns of syllable
In Western literary traditions, use of line is arguably the principal feature which distinguishes poetry from prose
. Even in poems where formal metre or rhyme is weakly observed or absent, the convention of line continues on the whole to be observed, at least in written representations, although there are exceptions (see Degrees of license
). In such writing, simple visual appearance on a page
(or any other written layout) remains sufficient to determine poetic line, and this sometimes leads to the suggestion that the work in question is no longer a poem but "chopped up prose".
A dropped line
is a line broken into two parts, with the second indented to remain visually sequential.
In the standard conventions of Western literature
, the line break is usually but not always at the left margin. Line breaks may occur mid-clause, creating enjambment
, a term that literally means 'to straddle'. Enjambment "tend[s] to increase the pace of the poem",
whereas end-stopped lines, which are lines that break on caesuras
often represented by ellipsis
), emphasize these silences and slow the poem down.
Line breaks may also serve to signal a change of movement or to suppress or highlight certain internal features of the poem, such as a rhyme
or slant rhyme
. Line breaks can be a source of dynamism, providing a method by which poetic forms imbue their contents with intensities and corollary meanings that would not have been possible to the same degree in other forms of text.
Distinct forms of line, as defined in various verse traditions, are usually categorised according to different rhythmical, aural or visual patterns and metrical length appropriate to the language
in question. (See Metre
One visual convention that is optionally used to convey a traditional use of line in printed settings is capitalisation
of the first letter of the first word of each line regardless of other punctuation in the sentence, but it is not necessary to adhere to this. Other formally patterning elements, such as end-rhyme
, may also strongly indicate how lines occur in verse.
In the speaking of verse
, a line ending may be pronounced using a momentary pause
, especially when its metrical composition is end-stopped
, or it may be elided such that the utterance can flow seamlessly over the line break in what can be called run-on
Degrees of license
In more "free" forms, and in free verse
in particular, conventions for the use of line become, arguably, more arbitrary and more visually determined such that they may only be properly apparent in typographical representation and/or page layout
One extreme deviation from a conventional rule for line can occur in concrete poetry
where the primacy of the visual component may over-ride or subsume poetic line in the generally regarded sense, or sound poems
in which the aural component stretches the concept of line beyond any purely semantic coherence.
At another extreme, the prose poem
simply eschews poetic line altogether.
Examples of line breaks
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.
While Cummings'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.
Examples are to be found, for instance, in Shakespeare's sonnets
. 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:
Which he did wave against my throat, I have ta'en
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.
In every type of literature there is a metrical pattern that can be described as "basic" or even "national"[dubious – discuss]
. The most famous and widely used line of verse in English prosody
is the iambic pentameter
while one of the most common of traditional lines in surviving classical Latin
prosody was the hexameter
In modern Greek poetry hexameter was replaced by line of fifteen syllables. In French poetry alexandrine
is the most typical pattern. In Italian
literature the hendecasyllable
which is a metre of eleven syllables, is the most common line. In Serbian ten syllable lines were used in long epic poems. In Polish poetry two types of line were very popular, an 11-syllable one, based on Italian verse and 13-syllable one, based both on Latin verse and French alexandrine. Classical Sanskrit
poetry, such as the Ramayana
, was most famously composed using the shloka
English iambic pentameter:
Like to Ahasuerus, that shrewd prince,
I will begin — as is, these seven years now,
My daily wont — and read a History
(Written by one whose deft right hand was dust
To the last digit, ages ere my birth)
Of all my predecessors, Popes of Rome:
For though mine ancient early dropped the pen,
Yet others picked it up and wrote it dry,
Since of the making books there is no end.
(Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book 10, Book The Pope, lines 1-9)
Arma virumque canō, Trōiae quī prīmus ab orīs
Ītaliam, fātō profugus, Lāvīniaque vēnit
lītora, multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
vī superum saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram;
multa quoque et bellō passūs, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deōs Latiō, genus unde Latīnum,
Albānīque patrēs, atque altae moenia Rōmae.
(Virgil, Aeneid, Book I, lines 1-7)
Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,
Je ne me sentis plus guidé par les haleurs :
Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles,
Les ayant cloués nus aux poteaux de couleurs.
(Arthur Rimbaud, Le bateau ivre, lines 1-4)
Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore.
(Dante Alighieri, Divina commedia, Inferno, Canto III, lines 1-6)
Where the lines are broken in relation to the ideas in the poem it 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
In general, line breaks divide the poetry into smaller units called lines, (this is a modernisation of the term verse
) which are often interpreted in terms of their self-contained meanings and aesthetic values: hence the term "good line
". Line breaks, indentations
, and the lengths of individual words determine the visual shape
of the poetry on the page, which is a common aspect of poetry but never the sole purpose of a line break. A dropped line
is a line broken into two parts, in which the second part is indented to remain visually sequential through spacing. In metric poetry, the places where the lines are broken are determined by the decision to have the lines composed from specific numbers of syllables
is poetry without line breaks in accordance to paragraph
structure as opposed to stanza
is a line break in the middle of a sentence, phrase or clause, or one that offers internal (sub)text or rhythmically jars for added emphasis. 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 correspond 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 referred to by some as "majusculation
". (this is an invented term derived from majuscule
). The correct term is a coroneted
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Because the lines start with capitalized letters, Eliot could be saying "Earth" as the planet or "earth" as the soil.
- ^ http://www.poetryarchive.org/glossary/line
- ^ Hazelton, Rebecca (September 8, 2014). "Learning the Poetic Line". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 5 June 2019. Some critics go so far as to say that lineation is the defining characteristic of poetry, and many would say it’s certainly one major difference between most poetry and prose.
- ^ See, for example, the account in Geoffrey N Leech A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry, Longman, 1969. Section 7.3 "Metre and the Line of Verse", pp.111-19 in the 1991 edition.
- ^ See  for an example.
- ^ a b Margaret Ferguson; Mary Jo Salter; Jon Stallworthy, eds. (2005). The Norton Anthology of Poetry. W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 2034. ISBN 0-393-97920-2.
- ^ 'Classroom synonym'.com
- ^ Metre, prosody at Encyclopedia Britannica
- ^ Hexameter, poetry at Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- ^ Alexandrine, prosody at Encyclopaedia Britannica
- ^ Claudio Ciociola, Endecasillabo at Encyclopedia italiana.
Last edited on 11 March 2021, at 14:25
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