Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lesser Known Literary Terms: Caesura


Yes, there is a term for that! You use caesura in your writing without even knowing it every time you place a colon, semicolon, dash, or ellipsis. These pauses are important. They offset, they interject, they emphasize.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe is an excellent example of caesura. Poe utilitzes this device to show his narrator's character, his train of thought, and his madness.

I WAS sick --sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me. The sentence -- the dread sentence of death -- was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.

I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no! In a swoon -- no! In death -- no! even in the grave all is not lost. 

These shadows of memory tell, indistinctly, of tall figures that lifted and bore me in silence down -- down -- still down -- till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the interminableness of the descent. 

Down -- steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right -- to the left -- far and wide -- with the shriek of a damned spirit; to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled as the one or the other idea grew predominant. 

By using caesura carefully and intentionally, you can help your reader paint a clearer picture of your intent and, as in Poe's story, of your characters. This device is more powerful than you might have thought.


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