A line break occurs when a poet decides to stop a line and begin another. It can happen with or without punctuation and at any point the poet sees fit. Depending on the content of the poem, a line break can benefit the tone, mood, and the atmosphere of the piece. When a line break occurs in the middle of a phrase, clause, or sentence, this is another technique known as enjambment. It is one of the most commonly used and effective techniques in poetry.
Purpose of a Line Break
Lines breaks are used in order to speed up, slow down, create drama or tension in a poem. They add dynamism and keep a reader moving through the text at the pace the writer wants them to. Line breaks can appear in prose, but they are much less common. In poetry, they are integral. If a writer uses frequent line breaks, they are able to create short choppy lines. With fewer line breaks, the poem can go slower, appear more fluid, and create more cohesive sentences.
Examples of Line Breaks in Poetry
Example #1 Stanza for Music by Lord Byron
This poem contains the words of a speaker who believes their beloved has a spiritual divinity and power over the ocean. This piece is a great example of how line breaks can be used to benefit the rhythm of a poem. As the title suggests, Byron intended for ‘Stanzas for Music’ to be set to music. The stanzas are divided into sets of four lines known as quatrains and then into rhyming couplets. Though the division, the rhyme scheme, and line breaks, the poem evokes a musical quality and might remind a reader of the structure of verses and choruses.
Here is the first stanza of the poem, take note of the places where Byron decided to end one line and begin another:
There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:
The first four lines, in particular, are evocative of the beautiful musical quality this poem has. The overarching image in this work is water. It appears in both stanzas and often the line breaks seem to resemble the ebbing of the tide.
Example #2 The Eagle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
‘The Eagle’ is a short poem, but nonetheless a good example of how line breaks are used in poetry. In this six-line piece, the speaker discusses the power and solitude of a lone eagle on a rocky cliff. Take a look at the first three lines:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The rhyme scheme in this poem is just as important as it is in Byron’s ‘Stanzas for Music’. It is very consistent and never once deviates from its intentions. With the way that Tennyson organized his lines, the breaks allow one statement at a time to confront the reader and then recede. Enjambment is less important in this work than in others. The poet is addressing the subject matter clearly, depicting for the reader a magnificent image of an eagle.
Example #3 Preference by Charlotte Brontë
In this poem, Brontë creates a speaker who has very strong and determined opinions about the kind of person she wants to have a relationship with. She does this by contrasting her preferred partner with a less savoury, temperamental, and deceitful suitor. The line breaks, and her use of syntax, make this poem an interesting and compelling read.
It was common for Brontë not to use the traditional subject, verb, object arrangement common to English sentences. The words in her lines shift their positions in order to place emphasis in the right places. This is exaggerated by the places where she chose to begin and end lines. For example, lines eleven and twelve “Therefore, dared I not deceive thee, / Even with friendship’s gentle show.”
Take a look at this excerpt from the poem:
Why that smile? Thou now art deeming
This my coldness all untrue,–
But a mask of frozen seeming,
Hiding secret fires from view.
Touch my hand, thou self-deceiver;
Nay-be calm, for I am so:
Does it burn? Does my lip quiver?
Has mine eye a troubled glow?
The transition between the first line of this excerpt, which is really the seventeenth line of the poem, and the next is a great example of how a strategic line break can help create tension and drama in a poem.