A caesura is a slight pause that's important in poetry, because for example alexandrines require a caesura in the middle.

But the question is where can we put them. I know that we tend to put them in places where there's a punctuation mark like a comma, but there are also authors who put them almost anywhere.

Such seem to be the case with this verse:

Ye sacred Bards, that to ¦ your harps' melodious strings

The caesura is placed between to and your, which breaks the natural flow of the verse. So I was wondering if I could place a caesura basically anywhere as long as it's not in the middle of a word.

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2 Answers 2


Put your pauses wherever you wish but know that they will tell the reader how to read it.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. Or at least imagined so in the mind. Tell your reader how and where to pause.

  • A comma.
  • A final punctuating mark (period, exclamation mark, question mark).
  • A line break.
  • A stanza break.

These are the primary methods by which a poet indicates a pause, in order of length.

The line you quote comes from Michael Drayton's poem Poly-Olbion, "a topographical poem describing England and Wales," first published in 1612. He wrote it in alexandrine couplets, which explains the odd punctuation mark in the middle that serves as a pause.

Whereas the French alexandrine is syllabic, the English is accentual-syllabic; and the central caesura (a defining feature of the French) is not always rigidly preserved in English...The strict English alexandrine may be exemplified by a passage from Poly-Olbion, which features a rare caesural enjambment (symbolized ¦) in the first line:

Ye sacred Bards, that to ¦ your harps' melodious strings

When others quote this stanza, they inevitably leave out the comma-like ¦. Why? Because that strict rhythm of alexandrine isn't necessary anywhere else. Like you say, it breaks the natural flow of the verse.

For Drayton, the rule wasn't that he couldn't put the caesura where he wanted to, but that he felt himself forced to add in a caesura where it otherwise wouldn't belong. And in a particularly awkward way to boot.

So pause where you want the reader to breathe.

If you choose a strict style and wish to adhere to it exactly, that's your choice, just know that sometimes it makes the reader do things you might not want.


TLDR: There may not actually be a caesura in the original poem at that line. The author certainly didn't indicate one by a punctuation mark. However, some modern poets do indicate caesuras, usually (in the cases that I have seen) by putting two spaces between words rather than by using punctuation. In modern poetry, you are allowed to do pretty much anything you want, so you can certainly put a caesura anywhere you please.

In the example that the OP quotes, the original did not have the punctuation mark ¦ that was used to indicate the caesura. It was introduced by somebody analyzing the poem.

The reason that the OP's source (which I assume is Wikipedia) says that a caesura is placed there is that nearly every other line in the poem has a caesura after the sixth syllable. Consider:

Till through the sleepy main ¦ to Thule I have gone,
And seen the frozen isles, ¦ the cold Deucalidon,
Amongst whose iron rocks ¦ grim Saturn yet remains,
Bound in those gloomy caves ¦ with adamantine chains.
  Ye sacred bards, that to ¦? your harps' melodious strings
Sung th' ancient heroes' deeds ¦ (the monuments of kings)
And in your dreadful verse ¦ ingrav'd the prophecies,
The aged world's descents ¦ and genealogies;

I would say that there isn't a caesura in that line. Wikipedia uses that line as an example of enjambment, where the syntax ignores the break (at the end of a line or at a caesura) that we expect to be there.

Surprisingly, you might classify this line as an example of the French alexandrin ternaire, which is generally considered (despite occasional previous examples) to have been introduced into French poetry by Victor Hugo two centuries after Drayton used it in this poem. In the alexandrin ternaire, there is a caesura after the fourth and eighth syllables:

Ye sacred Bards, ¦ that to your harps' ¦ melodious strings

Victor Hugo used it as a means to break the monotonous rhythm created by the standard French Alexandrine, with a caesura after every sixth syllable (and which is more monotonous in English than French). Drayton may have been using it the same way, or he may just have not been able to find a suitable line with a caesura in the correct place.

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