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Friday, September 3, 2021

Notes on Caesura


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Caesura – Literary terms

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A pause within a line of POETRY, often resulting from the natural RHYTHM of language and not necessarily indicated by punctuation. Skillful poets use the caesura to ease the stiffness of a metrical line without changing the metrical count. A caesura usually occurs near the middle of the line. Sometimes there is more than one caesura in a line. The last four lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous SONNET demonstrate subtle variation in the placement of the caesura:

I love thee // with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. // I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, // of all my life! // and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better // after death.


In more modern verse there is a great deal of variation in the placing  of the caesura, as can be seen in the work of outstanding innovators  like Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and T. S.  Eliot. Take, for instance, these lines from Y eats: 

That is no country for old men. // The young 

In one another's arms, // birds in the trees 

- Those dying generations - // at their song, 

The salmon-falls, // the mackerel-crowded seas, 

Fish, flesh, or fowl, // commend all summer long 

Whatever is begotten, // born, // and dies 

Caught in that sensual music // all neglect 

Monuments of unageing intellect. 

(Sailing to Byzantium) 

lt will be noticed that the last line has no caesura. 


Caesura from Penguin dictionary:

caesura (L 'a cutting') A break or pause in a line of poetry, dictated,  usually, by the natural rhythm of. the language. If near the beginning of the line it is called the initial caesura; near the middle,  medial; near the end, terminal. The commonest is the medial. A  masculine caesura follows the accented syllable; a feminine, the unaccented. A line may have more than one caesura or none at all. lt is often marked by punctuation. In OE verse the caesura was used  rather monotonously to indicate the half-line: 

Da waes on burgum // Beowulf Scyldinga 

leof leodcyning // longe prage. 

So Jung as alliterative verse (q.v.) V:,as the favoured form, there was  not a great deal of variation, as these lines from Langland's Piers  Plowman show: 

Loue is leche of lyf // and nexte owre lorde selue, 

And also pe graith gate // pat goth in-to heuene. 

The development of the iambic pentameter (q.v.) in Chaucer's  hands produced much more subtle varieties: 

With him ther was his sone, // a yong Squier 

A lovyere // and a lusty bacheler, 

With lokkes crulle // as they were leyd in presse. 

(Prologue to the Canterbury Tales) 

Blank verse ( q. v.) allowed an even wider range in the preservation  of speech rhythms, as these lines from Shakespeare suggest: 

I have ventur'd 

Like little wanton boys // that swim on bladders, 

This many summers // in a sea of glory; 

But far beyond my depth. // My high-blown pride

At length broke under me, // and now has left me, 

Weary and old with service, // to the mercy 

Of a rude stream // that must forever hide me. 

(King Henry VIII, III, ii, 359) 

For the most part, it is more regular in the heroic couplet (q.v.) as  Dryden shows: 

In squandering wealth // was his peculiar art: 

Nothing went unrewarded, // but desert. 

Beggar'd by fools, // whom still he found too late: 

He had his jest, // and they had his estate. 

(Absalom and Achitophel, Pt I, 559) 

lt can be seen from these few examples that the caesura is used,  basically, in two contrary ways: (a) to emphasize formality and to  stylize; and (b) to slacken the stiffness and tension of formal metrical patterns. 


Caesura from Oxford Dictionary:


Caesura [si-zew-ra] (plural-as or -ae), a pause in a line of verse, often coinciding with a break between clauses or sentences. It is usually placed  in the middle of the line ('medial caesura'), but may appear near the  beginning ('initial') or towards the end ('terminal'). In *SCANSION, a  caesura is normally indicated by the symbol II. If it follows a stressed syllable, it is known as a 'masculine' caesura, while if it follows an unstressed syllable, it is 'feminine'. The regular placing of the caesura  was an important metrical requirement in much Greek and Latin verse,  in the Old English and Middle English ALLITERATIVE METRE, and in the  French ALEXANDRINE; but in the English iambic PENTAMETER there is scope for artful variation between medial, initial, and terminal positions,  and a line may have more than one caesura or none. In Greek and Latin PROSODY, the term is also applied to a break between words within a  FOOT: the opposite of  DIAERESIS. Adjective: caesural.

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