Creative Assignment # 2: 8 lines with enjambment

What the heck is enjambment, anyway? 

These lines are endstopped, that is, the end of the line co-incides with the end of a grammatical unit:

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. (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

Heroic couplets incline to be endstopped, marked by a grammatical pause, as these lines from the Wife of Bath's Prologue are:

I woot well Abraham was an hooly man,
And Jacob eek, as fer as ever as I kan,
And ech of hem hadde wives mo than two--
And many another holy man also. (ll. 55-58)

A line which does not end with a grammatical break, that is, where the line cannot stand alone, cannot make sense without the following line, is enjambed. "Enjambment" comes from a French word meaning to put one's leg across, or to step over, just as the sense of the line steps over the end of the line. Here are a few lines from Keats' Endymion (a poem, like Chaucer's, in iambic pentameter rhyming couplets) which demonstrate how enjambment works:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: 
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and asleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.(ll .1-5)

The first and last lines above are end-stopped; lines 2, 3 and 4 are enjambed.Here's another example, this time from a sonnet by Wordsworth:

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity.

In this case,the first line is endstopped, while line 2 appears to be complete, but is expanded in a slightly unexpected way by the enjambment. Now, here is an example from the Wife of Bath's Prologue:

And Janekyn oure clerk was oon of tho.
As help me God, whan that I saugh him go
After the beere, me thoughte he had a paire
Of legges and of feet so clene and faire
That all mine herte I yaf unto his hoold. (ll.595-599)

The first line is endstopped; the rest are enjambed. What effect does enjambment have upon the motion of the verse?

The assignment

Enjambment is particularly good for creating a feel of naturalistic motion in verse; after all, when you speak, you don't pause after every five stresses, do you? Chaucer uses enjambment effectively to create natural sounding conversations. Here's the Host, trying to break up a quarrel between the Friar and the Summoner:

Oure Hoost tho spak, "A, sire, ye sholde be hende
And curteys, as a man of youre estaat;
In compaignye we wol have no debaat.
Telleth youre tale, and lat the Somonour be."
"Nay," quod the Somonour, "lat hym seye to me
What so him lyst; when it comth to my lot,
By God I shal hym quiten every grot." (ll. 1286-1292)

Write 8 lines of conversation in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets, incorporating at least a couple of enjambments. You may frame the conversation however you like, between any pair of pilgrims. The Miller might try out a pick-up line on the Wife of Bath, for instance; perhaps the Squire makes a courtly speech to the Prioresse; maybe the Clerk compliments the Man of Law on his moral tale. It's entirely up to you.

For a very few in the class, iambic pentameter seems to be about as easy as breathing. If you are among this group, you may try something more difficult if you like. Write a rhyme royal stanza on some high-falutin' topic (true love, the glories of nature, the advent of spring, moral responsibiltiy, etc.). Remember that a rhyme royal stanza is seven lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ababbcc; look to the Man of Law's tale for inspiration.

If you would like to take the third option, that is performing eight or ten lines of Chaucer orally, from memory, in Middle English, please see me.

Maud McInerney. February 26. Return home.