The “stop” is not necessarily a period, although that’s the form of punctuation that is most commonly associated with the term. End-stopped lines are marked by the use of periods as well as colons, semi-colons, or the end of the poem itself.
An end-stopped line is the opposite of enjambment. The latter occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. Enjambed lines do not make use of any of the punctuation listed above.
Purpose of End-Stopped Lines
Like all punctuation in poetry, or all moments when punctuation is missing, end-stopped lines are used to create rhythm and in some cases, drama. They can be manipulated to make the syntax feel more poetic, slow the reader down, or even speed them up as they move from one clause, phrase, or sentence to the next. At times, end-stops are used to force the reader to pause and consider what it is they just read. This is especially impactful in-between stanzas.
Examples of End-Stopped Lines in Poetry
Example #1 XVII (I do not love you…) by Pablo Neruda
One of the most beautiful love poems ever written, Neruda’s ‘I do not love you’ is a fourteen-line sonnet. It speaks on the poet’s complex and yet perfectly simple, love for his wife. Within it, Neruda makes use of various kinds of end-stopped lines. These are often paired with enjambed lines, allowing the reader a chance to juxtapose to two. Take a look at these lines from the second stanza:
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
Here, he tells his wife why he does love her. His love is like a plant that hides its beauty within itself. The plant is more of a representative of all other plants than is strikingly beautiful in itself. The “hidden” nature of the flower’s light is something that has penetrated the speaker’s body. It is an “aroma” that is living “dimly” in his body.
Take a look at how the first line runs into the second, but at the end of the second, you are encouraged to pause and consider what the poet just said. The same kind of pattern plays out in the next two lines as well.
Example #2 Mrs. Midas by Carol Ann Duffy
An imaginative narrative poem, ‘Mrs. Midas’ is told from the perspective of the wife of King Midas who is given the ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Rather than being amazed by her husband’s ability to turn everything into gold, Mrs. Midas easily sees through the ridiculous nature of his actions. She decides that she wants no part in the life he’s creating and leaves him on his own. Her only regret is that she didn’t get a child when she had the chance.
Take a look at these lines from the second stanza in which she has yet to realize of much her life is about to change:
Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch. – we grew Fondante d’Automne –
and it sat in his palm, like a lightbulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?
In this short excerpt, a reader can pick out several different kinds of end-stopped lines as well as enjambed ones. Take the time to consider how you would naturally say these phrases and what influence if any the punctuation has. The use of caesura in the fourth line is an especially interesting example.
Example #3 The Journey by Mary Oliver
This moving and powerful poem is told in short lines with different kinds of punctuation throughout. It tells of the emotional and mental turmoil endured by a specific someone and how they suffered to end one unhealthy life and begin anew in a different world. Take a look at the first few lines of the text:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
Here, a reader can experience the effect of the short lines and the lack of end-stopped punctuation until the fifth line. Once there, a reader is asked to pause. Silence takes over from the reference to “shouting” and “bad advice”. The last three lines of this section are particularly impactful.