Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

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Caesurae

"Caesurae" is the plural of caesura, which is the word for a pause in the rhythm of a line, usually signaled by a mark of punctuation. The lines from Gray on the previous page have no caesurae; they run more or less without interruption from beginning to end. Sometimes poets signal caesurae with marks of strong punctuation such as periods, colons, semicolons, or dashes. For example, take Alexander Pope's couplet from Essay on Man:


    Why has not man a microscopic eye?

  For this plain reason,--man is not a fly.

The first line has no caesura; the second has one after the fifth syllable. Such a break is typical of Pope's carefully balanced heroic couplets, which generally place caesurae after the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllables of their ten-syllable lines. We would scan the caesura above with two vertical lines, like this:


 u    /      /    /    u         /    u   /    u   /

For this / plain rea /son, || --man / is not / a fly./

(As I read the line, at least, there is a spondee substituted for the second iamb.)

Later writers tended to experiment with caesurae falling closer to the beginnings and ends of their lines, disrupting the sense of classical balance that Pope's verse creates.

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