by Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Taylor and Gillian Clarke
Prose is made of sentences. Poetry is made of lines. Poetry can have sentences as well as lines, but the lines are more important because they make the tune. Enjambment is the name for one of poetry’s dance steps. It stops the sentence in its stride, forcing it to dance to poetry’s tune. It’s the nano-second gap between the end of one line and the beginning of the next, or two nano-seconds between two stanzas. Enjambment is when the sentence jumps the gap between the lines or stanzas.
Here are two poems, both about snow, both using enjambment. ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost, and ‘Legend’ by Gillian Clarke.
The incident described in ‘Legend’ happened when Gillian Clarke was a child aged about 5. There were several very snowy winters in the 20th century, about 20 years apart. This particular winter was famous and people talked about it for years afterwards. It was a legendary winter, with one of the heaviest snowfalls ever known in Britain. The poem recalls that winter, the deep snow, the frozen lake. Read the poems to the class. It is best for them to listen first, and see the text afterwards. Then, with the poem in front of them, read it aloud again.
‘Legend’ is a true story. See how the sentence leaps between stanza 4 to 5, just as the poet recalls leaping the crack in the ice to pull her sister from the lake.
The rooms were mirrors
for that luminous face,
the morning windows ferned
with cold. Outside
a level world of snow.
Voiceless birds in the trees
like notes in the books
in the piano stool.
She let us suck top-of-the-milk
burst from the bottles like corks.
Then wrapped shapeless
we stumped to the park
between the parapets of snow
in the wake of the shovellers,
cardboard rammed in the tines of garden forks.
The lake was an empty rink
and I stepped out,
pushing my sister first
onto its creaking floor.
When I brought her home,
shivering, wailing, soaked,
they thought me a hero.
But I still wake at night,
to hear the Snow Queen’s knuckles crack,
black water running fingers through the ice.
This is a challenging poem for year 6. When the class has heard the poem twice, let them ask questions about it. Explain any difficult words or ideas, or experiences unfamiliar to them.
1. Why are the rooms ‘mirrors’? Whose is the ‘luminous face’?
When you wake in the morning to a fresh fall of snow, your bedroom ceiling reflects its whiteness. So ‘the rooms were mirrors/ for that luminous face.’
Ask the class if they’ve ever noticed that. Draw their attention to ‘luminous’.
2. Now that most houses have central heating, the idea of ice making fern shapes inside a window pane will seem strange. Have their grandparents told them about the days before central heating? Have grandparents ever told them about a famously snowy winter? How deep was the snow? Have the children ever seen ice-ferns inside a window? Explain they are made of frozen condensation, and that ice and snowflakes are formed in a wonderful pattern. There are opportunities for linking poetry with science here.
3. ‘Tines’ might be unfamiliar. Show them a fork. Maybe the class needs the teacher to explain the makeshift shovel you can make from cardboard jammed into the tines of a garden fork.
4. Most people drank full-cream milk delivered to the door in bottles in those days. That winter was so cold that the frozen cream pushed the tops off the bottles, making delicious little icecreams. Talk about differences between then and now.
5. Tell the class the fairy story of the wicked Snow Queen.
6. Why did the poet let her little sister try the ice first?
Did she feel guilty about it later?
1. Find, or get the children to find, other poems about snow. Compare ‘Legend’ with Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, printed below.
2. Ask the class to write a poem about the weather.
3. Let them write a true story-poem, in which they use enjambment. Children find line-endings difficult. Many children call a line of poetry a ‘sentence’. Help them to see the difference between a line and a sentence, between a poem and a prose-story. Show how enjambment can help their poem to flow.
4. Look at other poems where the sentence does NOT end where lines end.
5. Get them to ask grandparents or neighbours about the hottest summer, the coldest winter, the greatest storm, the worst hurricane they ever remember. Let the children write about it as if they were there. They could pretend to be that older person and write:
a) journal entry, b) letter, c) story, d) poem, or e) a report in a local newspaper.
6. Have you ever taken a dangerous risk? Write about it.
7. As well as enjambment, there are also examples of simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, and assonance in the poem. They will learn to pick these out, and to use them in their own writing, with the help of the essays on these other poetry terms.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The rhyme pattern in this poem is unusual and well worth some special attention. I will refer to this poem again in my lesson on rhyme.