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An example of a caesura in modern western music notation. Music-caesura.svg
An example of a caesura in modern western music notation.

A caesura ( /siˈzjʊərə/ , pl. caesuras or caesurae; Latin for "cutting"), also written cæsura and cesura, is a metrical pause or break in a verse where one phrase ends and another phrase begins. It may be expressed by a comma (,), a tick (), or two lines, either slashed (//) or upright (||). In time value, this break may vary between the slightest perception of silence all the way up to a full pause. [1] The length of a caesura where notated is at the discretion of the conductor.



In classical Greek and Latin poetry a caesura is the juncture where one word ends and the following word begins within a foot. In contrast, a word juncture at the end of a foot is called a diaeresis. Some caesurae are expected and represent a point of articulation between two phrases or clauses. All other caesurae are only potentially places of articulation. The opposite of an obligatory caesura is a bridge where word juncture is not permitted.

In modern European poetry, a caesura is defined as a natural phrase end, especially when occurring in the middle of a line. A masculine caesura follows a stressed syllable while a feminine caesura follows an unstressed syllable. A caesura is also described by its position in a line of poetry: a caesura close to the beginning of a line is called an initial caesura, one in the middle of a line is medial, and one near the end of a line is terminal. Initial and terminal caesurae are rare in formal, Romance, and Neoclassical verse, which prefer medial caesurae.


In verse scansion, the modern caesura mark is a double vertical bar||⟩ or ⟨⟩, a variant of the single-bar virgula ("twig") used as a caesura mark in medieval manuscripts. [2] The same mark separately developed as the virgule, the single slash used to mark line breaks in poetry. [2]



Caesurae were widely used in Greek poetry. For example, in the opening line of the Iliad :

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ || Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
("Sing, o goddess || the rage of Achilles, the son of Peleus.")

This line includes a masculine caesura after θεὰ, a natural break that separates the line into two logical parts. Unlike the tragedians in their hexameters, Homeric lines more commonly employ feminine caesurae; this preference is observed to an even higher degree among the Alexandrian poets. [3]


Caesurae were widely used in Latin poetry, for example, in the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid :

Arma virumque cano || Troiae qui primus ab oris
(Of arms and the man, I sing. || Who first from the shores of Troy...)

This line uses caesura in the medial position. In dactylic hexameter, a caesura occurs any time the ending of a word does not coincide with the beginning or the end of a metrical foot; in modern prosody, however, it is only called one when the ending also coincides with an audible pause in the line.

The ancient elegiac couplet form of the Greeks and Romans contained a line of dactylic hexameter followed by a line of pentameter. The pentameter often displayed a clearer caesura, as in this example from Propertius:

Cynthia prima fuit; || Cynthia finis erit.
(Cynthia was the first; Cynthia will be the last)

Old English

In Old English, the caesura has come to represent a pronounced pause in order to emphasize lines in Old English poetry that would otherwise be considered to be a droning, monotonous line. [4] This makes the caesura arguably more important to the Old English verse than it was to Latin or Greek poetry. In Latin or Greek poetry, the caesura could be suppressed for effect in any line. In the alliterative verse that is shared by most of the oldest Germanic languages, the caesura is an ever-present and necessary part of the verse form itself. The opening line of Beowulf reads:

Hwæt! We Gardena || in gear-dagum,
þeodcyninga, || þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas || ellen fremedon.
(Behold! The Spear-Danes in days gone by,)
(and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness,)
(We have heard of these princes' heroic campaigns.)

The basic form is accentual verse, with four stresses per line separated by a caesura. Old English poetry added alliteration and other devices to this basic pattern.

Middle English

William Langland's Piers Ploughman :

I loked on my left half || as þe lady me taughte
And was war of a woman || worþeli ycloþed.
(I looked on my left half / as the lady me taught)
(and was aware of a woman / worthily clothed.)

Kabir (Sant Kabir Das)

One of the widely used examples of caesurae in Indian poetry was in the 'dohas' or couplet poems of Sant Kabir Das, a 15th-century poet who was central to the Bhakti movement in Hinduism. [5] An example of his doha or couplet:

कस्तूरी कुंडल बसे मृग ढूँढत बन माहि ।
ज्यों घट घट में राम हैं दुनिया देखत नाहि ।।

Musk lies in the musk deer’s own nave ।
But roam in the forest he does – it to seek ।। [6]

Other examples

Caesurae can occur in later forms of verse, where they are usually optional. The so-called ballad meter, or the common meter of the hymnodists (see also hymn), is usually thought of as a line of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of trimeter, but it can also be considered a line of heptameter with a fixed caesura at the fourth foot.

Considering the break as a caesura in these verse forms, rather than a beginning of a new line, explains how sometimes multiple caesurae can be found in this verse form (from the ballad, Tom o' Bedlam):

From the hag and hungry goblin || that into rags would rend ye,
And the spirits that stand || by the naked man || in the Book of Moons, defend ye!

In later and freer verse forms, the caesura is optional. It can, however, be used for rhetorical effect, as in Alexander Pope's line:

To err is human; || to forgive, divine.


Caesura is very important in Polish syllabic verse (as in French alexandrine). [7] Every line longer than eight syllables is divided into two half-lines. [8] Lines composed of the same number of syllables with division in different place are considered to be completely different metrical patterns. For example, Polish alexandrine (13) is almost always divided 7+6. It has been very common in Polish poetry for last five centuries. But the metre 13(8+5) occurs only rarely and 13(6+7) can be hardly found. In Polish accentual-syllabic verse caesura is not so important but iambic tetrametre (very popular today) is usually 9(5+4). [9] Caesura in Polish syllabic verse is almost always feminine, while in accentual-syllabic (especially iambic) verse it is often masculine: sSsSsSsS//sSsSsSsSs. There are also metrical patterns with two or three caesuras, for example 18[9(5+4)+9(5+4)]. [10]


In music, a caesura denotes a brief, silent pause, during which metrical time is not counted. Similar to a silent fermata, caesurae are located between notes or measures (before or over bar lines), rather than on notes or rests (as with a fermata). A fermata may be placed over a caesura to indicate a longer pause.

In musical notation, a caesura is marked by double oblique lines, similar to a pair of slashes //. The symbol is popularly called "tram-lines" in the UK and "railroad tracks" or "train tracks" in the US.

See also

Related Research Articles


Alexandrine is a name used for several distinct types of verse line with related metrical structures, most of which are ultimately derived from the classical French alexandrine. The line's name derives from its use in the Medieval French Roman d'Alexandre of 1170, although it had already been used several decades earlier in Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. The foundation of most alexandrines consists of two hemistichs (half-lines) of six syllables each, separated by a caesura :

o o o o o o | o o o o o o  o=any syllable; |=caesura

Dactylic hexameter is a form of meter or rhythmic scheme in poetry. It is traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin and was consequently considered to be the grand style of Western classical poetry. Some premier examples of its use are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Hexameters also form part of elegiac poetry in both languages, the elegiac couplet being a dactylic hexameter line paired with a dactylic pentameter line.

In poetry, a hendecasyllable is a line of eleven syllables. The term "hendecasyllabic" is used to refer to two different poetic meters, the older of which is quantitative and used chiefly in classical poetry and the newer of which is accentual and used in medieval and modern poetry. The term is often used when a line of iambic pentameter contains 11 syllables.

Hexameter is a metrical line of verses consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the Hymns of Orpheus. According to Greek mythology, hexameter was invented by Phemonoe, daughter of Apollo and the first Pythia of Delphi.

In poetry, metre or meter is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study and the actual use of metres and forms of versification are both known as prosody.

An iamb or iambus is a metrical foot used in various types of poetry. Originally the term referred to one of the feet of the quantitative meter of classical Greek prosody: a short syllable followed by a long syllable. This terminology was adopted in the description of accentual-syllabic verse in English, where it refers to a foot comprising an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

An amphibrach is a metrical foot used in Latin and Greek prosody. It consists of a long syllable between two short syllables. The word comes from the Greek ἀμφίβραχυς, amphíbrakhys, "short on both sides".

In poetic metre, a trochee, choree, or choreus, is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, in English, or a heavy syllable followed by a light one in Latin or Greek. In this respect, a trochee is the reverse of an iamb.

Syllabic verse is a poetic form having a fixed or constrained number of syllables per line, while stress, quantity, or tone play a distinctly secondary role — or no role at all — in the verse structure. It is common in languages that are syllable-timed, such as French or Finnish — as opposed to stress-timed languages such as English, in which accentual verse and accentual-syllabic verse are more common.

Accentual verse has a fixed number of stresses per line regardless of the number of syllables that are present. It is common in languages that are stress-timed, such as English, as opposed to syllabic verse which is common in syllable-timed languages, such as French.

Scansion, or a system of scansion, is the method or practice of determining and (usually) graphically representing the metrical pattern of a line of verse. In classical poetry, these patterns are quantitative based on the different lengths of each syllable. In English poetry, they are based on the different levels of stress placed on each syllable. In both cases, the meter often has a regular foot. Over the years, many systems have been established to mark the scansion of a poem.

Iambic pentameter is a type of metric line used in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The term describes the rhythm, or meter, established by the words in that line; rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables called "feet". "Iambic" refers to the type of foot used, here the iamb, which in English indicates an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates a line of five "feet".

The Iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry consisting of three iambic units per line.

Accentual-syllabic verse is an extension of accentual verse which fixes both the number of stresses and syllables within a line or stanza. Accentual-syllabic verse is highly regular and therefore easily scannable. Usually, either one metrical foot, or a specific pattern of metrical feet, is used throughout the entire poem; thus one can speak about a poem being in, for example, iambic pentameter. Poets naturally vary the rhythm of their lines, using devices such as inversion, elision, masculine and feminine endings, the caesura, using secondary stress, the addition of extra-metrical syllables, or the omission of syllables, the substitution of one foot for another.

This is a glossary of poetry.

A line is a unit of language into which a poem or play is divided. The use of a line operates on principles which are distinct from and not necessarily coincident with grammatical structures, such as the sentence or single clauses in sentences. Although the word for a single poetic line is verse, that term now tends to be used to signify poetic form more generally. A line break is the termination of the line of a poem and the beginning of a new line.

Latin prosody is the study of Latin poetry and its laws of meter. The following article provides an overview of those laws as practised by Latin poets in the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire, with verses by Catullus, Horace, Virgil and Ovid as models. Except for the early Saturnian poetry, which may have been accentual, Latin poets borrowed all their verse forms from the Greeks, despite significant differences between the two languages.

Polish alexandrine is a common metrical line in Polish poetry. It is similar to the French alexandrine. Each line is composed of thirteen syllables with a caesura after the seventh syllable. The main stresses are placed on the sixth and twelfth syllables. Rhymes are feminine.

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6  o o o o o S x | o o o o S x Moja wdzięczna Orszulo, bodaj ty mnie była  S=stressed syllable; x=unstressed syllable; o=any syllable. 

Czech alexandrine is a verse form found in Czech poetry of the 20th century. It is a metre based on French alexandrine. The most important features of the pattern are number of syllables and a caesura after the sixth syllable. It is an unusual metre, exhibiting characteristics of both syllabic and syllabotonic (accentual-syllabic) metre. Thus it occupies a transitional position between syllabic and accentual patterns of European versification. It stands out from the background of modern Czech versification, which is modeled chiefly after German practice.

The Sapphic stanza is the only stanzaic form adapted from Greek and Latin poetry to be used widely in Polish literature. It was introduced during the Renaissance, and since has been used frequently by many prominent poets. The importance of the Sapphic stanza for Polish literature lies not only in its frequent use, but also in the fact that it formed the basis of many new strophes, built up of hendecasyllables and pentasyllables.


  1. Spreadbury, Daniel; Eastwood, Michael; Finn, Ben; and Finn, Jonathan (March 2008). "Sibelius 5 Reference", p.150. Edition 5.2. "The comma also indicates a short silence on instruments like the piano, which can't literally breath."
  2. 1 2 "virgule, n.", Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1917.
  3. West, M.L. (1982). Greek Metre. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 38, 98, 152.
  4. Bergman, Bennet. "Caesura." LitCharts LLC, May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  5. "History of Sant Kabirdas".
  6. "Kabirdas Dohavali".
  7. See Summary [in:] Lucylla Pszczołowska, Wiersz polski. Zarys historyczny, Wrocław 1997, p. 398.
  8. Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, Mały przewodnik po wierszu polskim, Kraków 2003, p. 14 (In Polish).
  9. Lucylla Pszczołowska, o.c., p. 401.
  10. Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, o.c., p. 73-74.