Caesura

As a caesura in the verse (metric), a legally defined incision, that is, a short (speaking) pause, is designated within a verse. The caesura can be perceived as a syntactic, phonetic, and metrical incision. A distinction is made between caesura having a fixed position (e.g., Alexandrian) and movable caesura (e.g., blank verse).

term
The term is derived from the Latin (caesura) and can be translated with Einschnitt. As a result, translation already reveals what is at stake: an indentation [within a line of verse that is executed syntactically, loudly, or metrically]. Let’s look at an exemplary caesura.

a
b
b
a
You see where you see only vanity on earth.
What this builds today, tears that tomorrow:
Where there are still cities, will be a meadow,
On which a shepherd ‘s child will play with the herds.
The above example is the first strophe of the sonnet It is all vain by Andreas Gryphius. We have chosen the modernized version for this contribution, in order not to influence the understanding of the caesura through the unfamiliar notation. We also marked the caesura in color.

The poem is written in Alexandrin, a verse which is very much determined by the lyricism of the Baroque (→ Literaturepochen). In the strict Alexandrian, a third caution must be made after the third uplift of the Iambian verses. Thus she should be able to see the words, build, stand and child.

If we now speak the verse loudly, we notice that these words are automatically inserted into a memory which separates the different speech units from each other. Such a pronouncing unit is referred to as the Kolon (Kola). The caesura is thus the linguistic void, which separates the individual Kola from each other in a verse line (see also → Tricolor).

This means that one can basically hear the caesura. If we speak the above verses loudly and clearly, we involuntarily look for the words, builds, stand, -kind a (speaking) pause and this linguistic incision is called a caesura.

Caesura in the narrower and wider sense
So far, the caesura has been described, as it is understood in the widest sense and is taught, for example, in German instruction. However, the caesura can also be meant in the narrow sense.

The above example of Andreas Gryphius has a cut after the first three lifts. This is emphasized clearly and also in the text by a commentary which we make while speaking, because a comma separates the Kola in the middle and substantive opposites underline the incision (above all these in verse 2 [“build / tear”] and Verse 3 [“city / meadow”] distinct → antithesis).

This means, however, that the definitive verse (yambus) is to be found three times before the caesura, and three times after it, whereby the caesura does not separate the individual elevations, but splits the speech units. The unstressed and stressed syllables as well as the caesura are emphasized.

You’ll see where you look only vanity on earth.
What builds this today tears that tomorrow:
Where cities are now standing will be a meadow
On which a shepherd ‘s child will play with the herds.
We see here that the caesura breaks the verse, but not the yambus (unstressed, emphasized), so that it is complete, and thus is represented by six syllables, each with a rise and a fall before and after the caesura. Thus the caesura is described and used in the widest sense.

Note: The first and fourth verses have 13 syllables, the second and third are respectively 12. Accordingly, at the end of the first and fourth verse are two unaccented syllables. Consequently, the yambus is not “complete”. This is called a catalectic verse, but this has nothing to do with the caesura itself.

If one speaks of a caesura in the narrow sense, the linguistic incision is carried out in the midst of the emotions. This means, with reference to our example above, that the yambus would not be completely separated from the linguistic incision but between the syllables.

xX xX x | X x x x x x x
xX xX x | X x x x x x x
xX xX x | X x x x x x x
xX xX x | X x x x x x x
In order to clarify this principle, in the above example we have chosen the representation of unstressed and stressed syllables. The yambus, which consists of the sequence of an unstressed and a stressed syllable, was broken by the caesura, which means the caesura in the narrower, more strict sense.

The most important overview
The caesura means a linguistic incision that can be performed on a syntactic, metrical, and phonetic level. We usually do a pause.
Thus, speech units are separated from each other. These are called Kola. According to the doctrine of ancient rhetoric, each Kolon contains seven to sixteen syllables.
One also distinguishes between fixed caesura, the position of which is prescribed in some poems, and free caesura whose position may be moved.
The caesura can thus decisively rhythmize a text. If the meaning of the word, the word, and the caesura, fall into one place, this can be almost vicious. If these units are strongly broken, however, this may appear inaccurate or even bumpy.

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