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Literature Glossary

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Caesura is a fancy word for a not-so-awkward pause that occurs in the middle of a line of verse in poetry. You can use this term if you want to sound smart, but we think "pause" is just fine.

You can create pauses in a lot of ways, but the most obvious is to use punctuation like a period, comma, or semicolon. So if you see one of those smack dab in the middle of a line of poetry, chances are you're looking at a caesura. (Note that a pause at the end of a line is not a caesura.)

Caesurae were all the rage back in the good old days of Anglo-Saxon (or Old English) poetry. We're looking at you, Beowulf. The Anglo-Saxons were fond of caesurae because all those pauses added rhythm that helped them remember the poem itself, which was probably being recited all fancy-like at a banquet in a Mead Hall.

You don't see 'em quite as much these days, but if you want to hear one for yourself, go read William Butler Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" aloud, or check out our analysis of "The Seafarer".