Most poetry I have seen, especially free-form, is written in broken lines. These lines them run into other lines and so not have any punctuation.

Some have explained this using enjambment. Where I have seen enjambment being useful are in lines which have to keep a rhyme scheme but are too long; for example

Never did I ever
Think or even wonder
That this country
Which I live in
Would make me begin to (tah)

p.s: there could be a comma between "think" and "or", or even at the end of the lines.

Other people explain the lack of punctuation to be style. Some claim the introduction of punctuation would constrict the readers to one particular voice.

This is not just seen in free-form or open-form poems. But poems to form also sometimes lack punctuation.

Should I be punctuating my poems or no?

3 Answers 3


Prose is governed by the rules of orthography.
Poetry is governed by the poet.

Punctuation is part of your artistic vision.

  • But there are rules, poetic forms, and other things which govern poetry. Is there something like this for punctuation?
    – Igbanam
    Oct 19, 2016 at 8:48
  • @iGbanam Generally punctuation is left up to the poet; the rules you mention restrict meter or syllables and rhyme and patterns of a sonic nature. I have not encountered punctuation rules per se, but I would say that generally a great poem should be clear as to its meaning (not necessarily obvious but not misleading either), and punctuation is definitely part of that. Line breaks, however, are considered a form of punctuation in many cases.
    – S Karami
    Aug 3, 2017 at 3:09

Enjambment versus end-stopped lines can also be useful to speed up or slow down a poem. Punctuation can be used to give the reader an indication of when to stop for a breath or at the end of a thought. You may find that a particular poem needs punctuation and another doesn't. If you're not sure, read your poem out loud. It will help you get a feel for what is needed.


There are cases where punctuation can be important in clarifying meaning, such as in cases of subject-verb agreement. In such cases, where the meaning could be muddled by lack of punctuation (bearing in mind that line breaks function as punctuation but not in the same way), then it should be used.

Line breaks/ enjambments function to give a "pause" or break between items, such as in a series, replacing commas. But they cannot serve the way commas do in clarifying subject/verb agreement. And within a line, of course, it is recommended to use commas for that purpose as well. Example:

My parents needed no reprieve

from mighty Titian’s lustborne dancing

women nude as cows romancing

well-dressed men. But let me leave!

Are the women or the cows romancing well-dressed men? So you need to set off "nude as cows" in commas.

In general, it is up to the poet, but a poet should be well-versed in grammatical rules to begin with, even if the poem is one long sentence, and apply those rules when necessary. Some poets, such as W S Merwin, hardly ever use punctuation, but he skillfully crafts his poetry to allow for that.

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