Enjambment - irony, wit, emotion. A case study suggesting wider principles

Reuven Tsur, Chen Gafni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study submits to empirical investigation an old idea of Tsur's regarding the effect of enjambment on the perceived subtleness of irony in a poetic passage. We submitted two versions of a Milton passage to over 50 participants with "background in literary studies", ranging from undergraduates to tenured professors, asking them to rate the perceived subtleness of irony and forthrightness of expression. We received four incompatible combinations of relative subtleness and forthrightness in the two passages. Two of the combinations were logically reasonable (though resulting from opposite performances), and two were internally inconsistent. An analysis of these results revealed two sources of this discrepancy: enjambments can be performed in three different ways, and participants respond not to abstract enjambments, but to performed enjambments; and they act upon partly overlapping definitions of irony. Assuming different performances of the enjambment, both logically acceptable response patterns support our hypothesis. Yet, a large part of the responses in this study were incoherent to some extent. This highlights the difficulty in collecting subjective interpretations of complex aesthetic events. We discuss this methodological issue at length.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-28
Number of pages22
JournalStudia Metrica et Poetica
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Studia Metrica et Poetica.


  • Cognitive poetics
  • Emotion
  • Enjambment
  • Irony
  • Performance
  • Wit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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