What is a Caesura in Poetry

What is a Caesura in Poetry

Caesura (also written as cæsura and cesura) indicates a strong pause in poetry. It is a rhythmic pause found within a line. Poets indicate caesura with a parallel symbol (||). This creates two separate parts which are discernible from one another yet basically linked to one another. Caesura often adds a theatrical touch to a line and conveys a depth of sentiment in a short phrase.

Types of Caesura

Based on the position of a line:

A caesura can be described by its position in a line. There are three types of caesura based on the position: initial, medial and terminal. Initial caesura occurs at the beginning of the line whereas terminal caesura occurs at the end of the line. Medial caesura is found in the middle of the line.

Initial:

Dead ! || One of them shot by the sea in the east…
What art can a woman be good at?  Oh, vain !

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Mother and Poet”

Terminal:

No voice says “My mother” again to me. || What !

You think Guido forgot ?

 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Mother and Poet”

Medial:

I loked on my left half || as þe lady me taughte

And was war of a woman || worþeli ycloþed.

 – William Langland’s Piers PloughmanWhat is a Caesura in Poetry

Masculine vs Feminine Caesura:

Masculine caesura is a pause that occurs after a stressed syllable. It creates a staccato effect in the poem. Given below is an example from Emily Dickinson’s I’M Nobody! Who Are You?

I’m nobody! ||Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us|| — don’t tell!
They’d banish ||– you know!

Feminine caesura is a pause that follows an unstressed syllable. This is softer and little less abrupt than the masculine caesura. Given below is an example from Shakespeare’s The Winter Tales.

It is for you we speak, || not for ourselves:
You are abused || and by some putter-on
That will be damn’d for’t; || would I knew the villain,
I would land-damn him. || Be she honour-flaw’d,
I have three daughters; || the eldest is eleven

Examples of Caesura in Literature

Given below are some more examples of caesura in poetry. Caesura is marked by ||. (Note that the original work does not include these marks.)

Once upon a midnight dreary, || while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious || volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, || suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, || rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ || I muttered, || `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’ – Edgar Allen Poe’s 

– Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

Alas, how chang’d! || what sudden horrors rise!
A naked lover || bound and bleeding lies!
Where, where was Eloise? || her voice, her hand,
Her poniard, || had oppos’d the dire command.
Barbarian, stay! || that bloody stroke restrain;…
Death, || only death, can break the lasting chain;

– Alexander Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard

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