Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of caesura?

The definition of caesura is a break in a line of verse, often in the middle of the line, that is marked by punctuation and produces a paused or emphasized separation between the poem’s elements.


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Last Updated on September 26, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298

A caesura is a pause or break occurring in a line of verse, usually near the middle of the line. Caesuras can be denoted by periods, dashes, or other punctuation marks. Writers use caesuras to produce a pause and/or to emphasize a separation between elements of the poem.

The word caesura first appeared in Latin, where it has the same meaning as above, as well as literally meaning “a cutting,” and comes from caedere, meaning “to cut.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Mother and Poet” contains multiple examples of caesura:

On which, without pause, up the telegraph line 

Swept smoothly the next news from Gaeta: — Shot. 

Tell his mother. Ah, ah, his, 'their' mother, — not mine,' 

No voice says "My mother" again to me. What! 

You think Guido forgot? 


Are souls straight so happy that, dizzy with Heaven, 

They drop earth's affections, conceive not of woe? 

I think not. Themselves were too lately forgiven 

Through THAT Love and Sorrow which reconciled so 

The Above and Below.

The epic poem Beowulf also makes extensive use of caesura. Note the use of commas and periods in the middle of the following lines and how they indicate pauses in the poem’s cadence:

So.  The Spear-Danes in days gone by 

And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. 

We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns. 


There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, 

A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. 

This terror of the hall-troops had come far. 

A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on 

As his powers waxed and his worth was proved. 

In the end each clan on the outlying coasts

Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him 

And begin to pay tribute. That was one good king. 

see: verse, enjambment

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