Pauses in poetry

Rhythmic pauses in poetry

The caesura.
plural caesurae.
It can be used in poetry and prose.
This literary device involves creating a break of a breath within a line where the two separate parts are distinguishable from one another yet intrinsically linked together. The purpose of using a caesura is to create a dramatic pause, which has a strong impact. The pause helps to add an emotional, or theatrical touch to the line and conveys a depth of sentiment in a short phrase.

Everyone speaks, and everyone breathes while speaking. For instance, when you say, “Josh has done his assignment,” you take breath or make a pause before further saying, “But Gideon did not.” Then again you take a little breath and say, “He ran out of ink.” Such pauses come from the natural rhythm of your speech.

Poetry also uses pauses in its lines. It uses them to indicate how a piece should be read, to help rhythm and speed and sense.
A comma, semi colon, full stop, dash, double space ellipse or exclamation mark often in the middle of a line would indicate a caesura.
In metrical poetry the caesura can be used as unstressed syllable.
Even if a caesura is not marked by punctuation poets use the natural breaths and intonations of speech to get the rhythm right. Word choice is extremely important to get the intonation right to speed and slow reading, to heighten, reduce emotion.

How we speak using caesura

Caesura on the whole are not big pauses you are not going to pause for 3 seconds just slightly longer than normal speech transmission.
Like everything in speech caesura come in various degrees longer or shorter. Sometimes a caesura happens as we length the syllables in one word as we speak.

If we look at the lines
‘Death, only death, can break the lasting chains ‘

we say the first death sharply and crisply then the second as deathhh. Say it out loud try it.

Examples of caesura

In the children’s verse, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence,’ the caesura occurs in the middle of each line:
‘Sing a song of sixpence, ll a pocket full of rye.’
This caesura this pause would remain even without the coma its a natutal space to breathe.

In this piece no visable caesura but some occur naturally through word choice and speech patterns.

‘Do you wonder ll at the why of life

Heed the truth ll kick the doubt.’

Sometimes Caesura occur near the beginning of a line, for emphasis not at a place we would normally pause for breath unless our speech was dramatic or we wanted our listener to really tune in.

For example, in the first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Mother and Poet’, the caesura occurs after the very first word of the poem:
‘Dead ! ll One of them shot by the sea in the east’

Sometimes poets use more than caesura in a line as in
Shakespeares Hamlet.
‘To be, ll or not to be — ll that is the question…’
Here there is a short pause with the coma but a longer more dramatic pause on the dash.

Sometimes near the end of a line.
‘Then there’s a pair of us — ll don’t tell!’

This stanza from John Ashbery’s poem “Our Youth” gives a more modern example of caesura using three different types of punctuation: ellipsis in the first two lines, a period in the third, and finally a comma in the fourth.
Blue hampers . . . || Explosions,
Ice . . . || The ridiculous
Vases of porphyry. || All that our youth
Can’t use, || that it was created for.

How we mark caesura in scansion
If we are analysing poetry we mark a caesura with ll called a double pipe.

Why use caesurae

Writers use caesurae to create variation in the rhythm of a poem, or to emphasize words in the middle of lines that might not otherwise receive attention. Since line breaks in poetry tend to serve as a natural pause regardless of whether the lines are end-stopped with punctuation, the rhythm of poems with lines of equal length can become somewhat monotonous and unvaried without the use of caesurae to create pauses in the middle of lines. The use of caesurae also allows writers to formulate their thoughts and images using more complex sentence structures with different clauses and a freer use of punctuation than is possible without the use of caesurae.
Check out caesurae in poetry and see how they work.
There are technical names for the different types of caesura you can look them up but to me it is important you understand the idea and ways to use pauses in lines. Technical terminology is not important.

Samantha Beardon.

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