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Caesura: Definition, Types and Examples of Caesura

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

Definition of Caesura

The term caesura derives from the Latin verb caedare, which means to cut off. Caesura refers to any break or pause in a line of poetry. It is a complete pause marked by a comma, space, dash, ellipsis or any other punctuation mark. It usually occurs in the middle of the poem, but sometimes, it can occur at the beginning or the end of a line of poetry. For example, the lines taken from John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale contains medial and terminal caesuras:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: — Do I wake or sleep?

Now, let’s discuss types of caesura.

Types of Caesura

Initial Caesura

Initial caesura is a type of caesura that occurs at the beginning of line of poetry. For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, Mother and Poet, offers an example of initial caesura. The exclamation mark after the word, dead, is initial caesura.

"DEAD! one of them shot by the sea in the east,
And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
Dead! both my boys! When you sit at the feast
And are wanting a great song for Italy free,
Let none look at me!"

— Barrett Browning, Mother and Poet

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Medial Caesura

Medial caesura is a kind of caesura that occurs in the middle of the line of poetry. For example, John Keats’ poem, Ode to a Nightingale, offers examples of medial caesuras. The coma after meadows, vision; semi colon after hillside and colon after music are medial caesuras:

"Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?"

— John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale

Terminal Caesura

A kind of caesura that occurs at the end of a line of poetry is called a terminal caesura. Terminal caesuras are marked only with end-stops. End-stop is a line of poetry wherein the sense doesn’t pass on to the next line. For example, in T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, the fourth and seventh lines are end-stopped. That’s why; they end on terminal caesuras.

"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers."

— T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

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© 2015 Muhammad Rafiq

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