A Caesura is a break in the normal flow of a sentence, phrase or metrical line. It is normally as a result of a piece of punctuation such as a comma or full stop.
Types of Caesura
There are a number of different types of caesarea used in poetry:
A break which occurs in the middle of a line in order to split it into two equal parts.
A break placed very close to the beginning of a line.
Placed very close to the end of a line.
A break which follows an unstressed syllable.
A break which follows a stressed syllable.
Why use a Caesura?
- Placing emphasis: Using a caesura helps to place emphasis on specific points and ideas, particularly if it is used unexpectedly. This is most noticeable for initial caesura, which break up lines and can be quite surprising for a reader, particularly if it contrasts with the (typical) structure of the poem.
- Explore emotions: Additional punctuation and breaks in the flow of text can help to emphasise and build on certain emotions, allowing time for a reader to empathise with a situation and/or better understand it.
- Changing the rhythm: Due to its ability to break the flow of a poem, a caesura can have a big impact on the overall rhythm. When the rhythm changes abruptly it can help place more emphasis on certain sections, or create different tones and feelings.
There are lots of examples of this device in ‘A Minor Role’ (Poems of the Decade) by UA Fanthorpe. This poem explores the concept of an individual’s place in society, and the way that illness can impact upon it, with caesura helping to explore emotions and ideas.
One key example in the poem is the use of semi-colons in the second stanza. It can be interpreted as reflecting the interruptions of life, whether on a day to day basis or as a result of illness. There are also other breaks to the flow in the poem, such as the use of brackets to insert additional snippets of information, which highlights the complexity of life. The frequent breaks and pauses are likely to be highly effective at encouraging a reader to feel, to some degree, overwhelmed, and therefore empathise with the narrator.
“Questions politely; checking dosages,”
As the name implies, ‘Song’ is a lyrical piece of work where the rhythm and pace are very important, and was written as an elegy for Helen Suzman, a famous anti-apartheid campaigner. As such, the limited but specific use of caesura is important to consider, with most pauses taking place in the form of end-stopped lines. The final line, shown below, is very effective at breaking the expected flow of the poem, which some readers may interpret as representing the break in ordinary life as a result of the loss of Helen Suzman, or alternatively to demonstrate the idea of strength through this more precise and controlled phrasing.
“Of nothing happening. Then something does.”