Glossary

Term: Line


Description

A line is a subdivision of a poem, specifically a group of words arranged into a row that ends for a reason other than the right-hand margin. This reason could be that the lines are arranged to have a certain number of syllables, a certain number of stresses, or of metrical feet; it could be that they are arranged so that they rhyme, whether they be of equal length or not. But it is important to remember that the poet has chosen to make the line a certain length, or to make the line-break at a certain point. This line-break, where a reader has to turn back to the start of the next line, was known in Latin as the versus, which translates as "turn", and is where the modern English term "verse" comes from. It is one of the strongest points of a line, which means that words that fall at the end of a line seem more important to a reader (an effect that rhyme can intensify); other strong points are the start of a line, and either side of a caesura.

Just about every poem in the Archive has lines (prose poems can be argued over - they either don't have lines, or have really long lines). It has been suggested that a line is supposed to be the length of a breath, so that a long line should leave you breathless, or a short line should make you feel like you're hyperventilating. This reason may be debatable, but an alertness to the frequency of the line-endings is part of reading poetry.

Poets will sometimes use a regular line length, which, naturally, gives a sense of regularity; they may use different line-lengths for every line, which suggests that each line is set to be the length it is by its content; or they may use different-length lines that occur in a repeated pattern, which has elements of both. ('Length' can be measured in a few different ways - see 'Metre' for more on this.) Examples of each are, respectively, Anthony Thwaite's 'Simple Poem', Adrienne Rich's 'Fox', and Robert Minhinnick's 'The Yellow Palm'.

Ciaran Carson's 'Belfast Confetti' has some of the longest lines in the Archive; it gives the poet freedoms within the line that Charles Tomlinson doesn't allow himself in 'A Given Grace', but the short lines of the latter poem make sense with its presentation of a close-up examination, which would, perhaps, jar with Carson's presentation of a violent event and wanderings through a city.

How to use this term

The short, irregular lines of John Burnside's 'De Humanis Corporis Fabrica' mirror the slow accumulation of various bodily details in the poem.

Pick a Letter...

Related Poems

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Reading Stevens in the Bath

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For This

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The Ride

The Yellow Palm

Ode to Didcot Power Station

Ave Atque Vale

Prelude to a New Fin-de-Siècle

Painting of a Bedroom with Cats

For Me

The Ice-Cream Man

Coming Home

Walking Wounded

Four Morbid Songs - an extract

Machines

Piano

Belfast Confetti

The Boneyard Rap

Corpse

Song of the Death-Watch Beetle

Urban Lyric

Enemies

Fundamentals

Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley

Between Hovers

For Meg

Sonnet for Dick

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love

Marigolds

Sigma

On Going Deaf

The Living End

Life Is a Walk Across a Field

The Texas Swing Boys' Dadaist Manifesto

Mayflies

The Mulberry Tree

The Romans in Britain

Timothy Winters

Variation on an Old Rhyme

Granny Is

Holy The Heart On Which We Hang Our Hope

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Bloodlines - an extract

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love

The Lost Woman

Hypnopaedia

Sea Wind

Shantung

You Were Wearing Blue

You're Beautiful

Cracks

What Is Poetry

Ghazal

Razor

Strugnell's Haiku

A Removal from Terry Street

Ruins of a Great House

Simple Poem

A Supermarket in California

In praise of vodka

Leaving the Tate

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The Elwood Organic Fruit and Vegetable Shop

A Rose for Janet

Art Class

The Moon Upoon the Waters

Bluebottle

Dad

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Three Limericks

A Given Grace

Belfast Confetti

Fox

Simple Poem

The Yellow Palm

Catmint Tea

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Life Is a Walk Across a Field

The Elwood Organic Fruit and Vegetable Shop

Time

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Nine to Five

The Annals of Sheer

The Grain of Things

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Simple Poem

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Ode to Didcot Power Station

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On the Ning Nang Nong

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade - an extract

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For Me

Strugnell's Haiku

The Passionate Pupil Declaring Love

Don't Ask Me, Love, for That First Love

Geography Lesson

Sonnet for Dick

Thief

Fundamentals

Monologue in the Valley of the Kings

Preston North End

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Siren Song

Strugnell's Haiku

For John Clare

In The Colonie (an extract: 34)

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Lord Neptune

The Uncut Stone

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The River

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Bloodlines - an extract

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Jessica Learned to Kiss

Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant

Incident on a Holiday

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Two Lorries

Fork

Machines

Slow Reader

Thief

Catmint Tea

My Mammogram

Overblown Roses

Sonnet

Sonnet for Dick

The Happy Grass

Window

Hyena

Leaving the Tate

Prayer Before Birth

Reading Leaves

Parliament Hill Fields

The Articles of Prayer

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Considering the Snail

Incident on a Holiday

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Beyond Decoration

For This

A Barred Owl

A blade of grass

The Happy Grass

The Master of the Cast Shadow - an extract from the sequence Consequences

Missing Dates

Villanelle for the Middle of the Way

Daljit Nagra

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