What Are Ellipses in a Poem?

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An ellipsis is a powerful punctuation tool that serves several purposes. When it comes to writing poetry or quoting parts of a poem, ellipses are extremely useful, whether you want to emphasize a point or indicate that you have purposely omitted parts of a quote. Generally speaking, an ellipsis is a series of periods, usually three (...), although there are other variations when you're directly quoting a poem.

The Three-Period Ellipsis

The most common ellipsis consists of three periods. A poem could contain this kind of ellipsis for one of several reasons -- namely a pause, hesitation or unfinished thought. Poets can use this tool to emphasize their point and bring in a more human voice to the piece. Langston Hughes uses this technique in "Dream Variations": "Rest at pale evening . . . / A tall, slim tree . . . / Night coming tenderly / Black like me." When quoting a poem where you purposely want to omit parts of a passage, substitute an ellipsis for the missing parts: "Then rest at cool evening . . . / That is my dream!"

Other Types of Ellipses

Use an ellipsis with four periods when you are directly quoting a poem and omitting the end of a sentence, yet the remaining selection still forms a complete sentence. Here is an example: "To say I'm without fear -- / It wouldn't be true. / I'm afraid of sickness . . . ." A full line of ellipses is used to replace a full line omitted from the poem, as in this quotation from Louise Glück's "Confession":

To say I'm without fear -- It wouldn't be true. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Like anyone, I have my dreams.


About the Author

Jen has been a professional writer since 2002 in the education nonprofit industry. Her work has been featured in the New Jersey SEEDS Annual Report, as well as several Centenary College publications, including "Centenary in the News" and the "Trustee Times." In 2009, Jen earned a Master of Arts degree in leadership and public administration from Centenary College.

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