What Is End-Stopping?

A. Leverkuhn

In poetry, end-stopping is the phenomenon of stopping a sentence, phrase, or idea in conjunction with the end of a poetic line. This can be relevant regardless of the form of the poetry, whether it has fixed length lines, or more free-flowing lines of verse. Many regard end-stopping as a process of making poetry more accessible and coherent, since most readers are used to reading poetry in which a line represents a consolidated individual idea or sentence.

End-stopping can be a way to make poetry more accessible and coherent for the reader.
End-stopping can be a way to make poetry more accessible and coherent for the reader.

One of the best ways to describe end-stopping is by contrasting it with examples of poetry that do not utilize this technique. As a basic example, the first two lines of a poem that would include end-stopping might look like this, with the poetic line differentiation noted by a backslash: “The man was sitting on a chair/ A little dog was also there…” – Here, the two sentences in the poetic couplet each end where the poetic lines end.

By contrast, an example of poetry without end-stopping might look like this: “A man was sitting, open-armed/upon a chair, his hair well-combed…” Here, the total concept of the two lines could be conceived as a single idea, compounded with strings of adjectives, where the first adjective creates the end of the first line, with additional adjectives and adjective clauses drawing out the second line. Many readers can see how poetry without end-stopping can be confusing since the termination of individual ideas is made much more ambiguous. At the same time, it provides the poet with much greater flexibility.

Many modern examples of poetry without end-stopping are composed in free verse, which means that the poetry lacks a meter or fixed length of lines. In these poems, narrative is also expressed in a series of short and abstract fragments. Full ideas may not even be composed concretely, and so end-stopping may not be a very relevant technique.

Even in classic poetry, stopping lines symmetrically was not a universal technique, particularly where a fixed meter was used for lines of drama. Dramatic speaking does not always adhere to a rigid line pattern, and so readers can often find cases of the classic iambic pentameter of Shakespeare and Elizabethan poets, or other classic conventional poetic forms, that have some lines, which do not use the technique.

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