A Closer Look at Line Breaks


Since end-stopped lines break where a reader would naturally pause for breath, the reader feels very little “pull” from one line to the next. An end-stopped line provides a sense of closure. Because run-on lines do not break where the reader might naturally pause, the pull is greater from line to line.

from Swans
With wings held close and slim neck bent,
Along dark water scarcely stirred,
Floats, glimmering and indolent,
the alabaster bird;
Floats near its mate—the lovely one!
They lie like snow, cool flake on flake,
Mild breast on breast of dimmer swan
Dim-mirrored in the lake.
Leonora Speyer

A run-on line provides a sense of anticipation and movement. (See Po’s Garden by Ree Young)

In Grandmother’s
larkspur garden, a cat
sleeps, his one blue eye
hidden by a yellow-furred
lid. His dark nose
twitches, flares, scans
the air for a scent
familiar and friendly.
He knows me, this cat
with glossy gold coat,
waits for me, stretching
like a breeze blown
down the hillside, slow
and long. We lounge
all day in the garden’s
shade and count
Ree Young

In Tree Farm, poet Kristine O’Connell George combines end-stopped and run-on lines to good effect. The run-on lines of the first stanza give the reader the sensation of walking along the rows of potted trees. The three end-stopped lines of the second stanza change the pace of the poem as if the speaker has stopped walking to address the tree.

We walk the long rows
of trees growing
in black plastic pots
and wooden boxes
until I spot
the perfect tree
different from the rest—
the one where a bird
has built her nest.
Come home, tree.
Come home, bird.
Come home with me.
Kristine O’Connell George

A Poet’s Job is to Notice! Do you notice the subtle, barely there, rhymes within Po’s Garden and Tree Farm?