Definition of End Stopped Line
An end stopped line is a line in verse which ends with punctuation, either to show the completion of a phrase or sentence. End stopped lines occur in poetry when a syntactic unit is contained in one line and the meaning does not continue on to the next line. This is the opposite of enjambment, which refers to lines carrying on their meaning to the following line or lines. You can also tell that a line is end-stopped because when reading these types of lines you’ll naturally pause before moving on to the next line, however briefly.
Common Examples of End Stopped Line
The definition of end stopped line is generally only used when discussing poetry, as it is necessary to differentiate between end stopped lines and enjambed lines. However, it is clear that most song lyrics and popular poems also display end stopped lines, as each line naturally completes a small unit of meaning. Here are some popular songs and poems with examples of end stopped lines:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
(“Blackbird” by The Beatles)
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
(“Star Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key)
This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home.
(“This Little Piggy,” popular nursery rhyme)
Significance of End Stopped Line in Literature
Poets and dramatists make very intentional choices about whether to end their lines either in the middle or at the end of a syntactical unit. The choice to either write an end stopped line or an enjambed line affects the reading experience in that the mind interprets information differently when it is grouped in different ways. In general, end stopped lines were the norm in poetry for many millennia until writers began to experiment with different ways of breaking up syntactical units. For example, the majority of William Shakespeare’s earlier works contain only end stopped line examples while later in his life he used much more enjambment. However, there are still some older examples of enjambment and plenty of contemporary examples of end stopped lines. Poets who want to use a strict rhyme scheme may gravitate toward end stopped lines because the combination of end rhyme and the completion of syntactical units works well together. Poets working in free verse may be less likely to write with end stopped lines.
Examples of End Stopped Line in Literature
So Grendel waged his lonely war,
Inflicting constant cruelties on the people,
Atrocious hurt. He took over Heorot,
Haunted the glittering hall after dark,
But the throne itself, the treasure-seat,
He was kept from approaching; he was the Lord’s outcast.
(Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney)
The Old English epic of Beowulf contains many enjambed lines, perhaps surprising for a text that is so old. Yet in the time of Anglo Saxon poetry there were other factors that determined the aesthetics of a line, mostly having to do with consonance and assonance and imagery. This is an example of end stopped lines, however, that comes near the beginning of the poem. In this case, the end stopped lines are very powerful and seem to mimic both the brute strength with which Grendel attacks the humans as well as his isolation.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
(“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)
In general, William Shakespeare’s sonnets all contain end stopped lines. This is because Shakespeare was working in strict meter (iambic pentameter) as well as a strict rhyme scheme, as befits the sonnet form. Each line contains a complete thought. In this short excerpt from “Sonnet 18,” we can see Shakespeare ask a full question in the first line and give a complete, if succinct, answer in the second line.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
(“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -” by Emily Dickinson)
Emily Dickinson often used interesting punctuation in her poetry, favoring dashes where other writers might have chosen commas, periods, or no punctuation at all. The first stanza of her poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -” contains four lines that all end with dashes, thus signaling that each one is an example of an end stopped line. Without Dickinson’s punctuation here the reader might have been tempted to treat the lines as running from one into the next.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
(“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe)
Edgar Allen Poe used many examples of end stopped lines in his poetry, especially his famous poem “The Raven.” This poem contains strict rhyme scheme and each long line contains a complete idea. This poem has very long lines, generally written in trochaic octameter, and thus there is enough room in each line for Poe to fully explore a complete thought.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
(“Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman)
Thought Walt Whitman used no rhyme in his very long poem “Song of Myself,” almost every single line in the poem ends with a comma or period. Thus, almost every line of the poem is an example of end stopped line. The above excerpt comprises the first stanza of the poem. We can see that Whitman wrote lines that fit his thoughts rather than choosing a meter or length of line and cramming his ideas into that structure.
Test Your Knowledge of End Stopped Line
1. Which of the following statements is the best end stopped line definition?
A. A line in which the syntactical unit corresponds to the length of the line.
B. A syntactical unit which carries on for the length of a stanza.
C. The final line in a stanza or poem.
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2. Which of the following excerpts from Beowulf contains only end stopped lines?
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
And begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.
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3. Which of the following Romeo quotes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains only examples of end stopped lines?
Well, in that hit you miss. She’ll not be hit
With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,
From love’s weak childish bow she lives unharmed.
When the devout religion of mine eye
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fire;
And these who, often drowned, could never die,
Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars.
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
Being vexed a sea nourish’d with loving tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.
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