Is there a poetic term for unvoiced beats?

Bruce N H

Active Member
Hey Corey or other people who know poetry terms,

Is there a term for missing syllables in poems? In our discussion of "I sit beside the fire and think" we talked about this poem being alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. But in music, this really wouldn't be alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4 time - instead it would just be 4/4 with that 8th beat being a rest, or maybe holding out the last word of the second line as a half note. This was how Mad Violinist set it to music and it just feels natural. When I read this aloud, I don't say "...of all that I have seen of meadow-flowers...". Instead I say "...of all that I have seen - pause - of meadow-flowers..." and that pause is the same amount of time as any of the iambs. To me it feels like it's just iambic tetrameter, but the last iamb of every other line is silent.

I guess what I'm asking is there a term in poetry for what would be a rest in music? Is poetic analysis just about the words, or does it also include the spaces around the words?

Bruce
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
This is a really good question! I do not know. I am a spoken word poet so a huge part of that is knowing the metre and I write words to fit a rhythm in my head. The spaces are as important sometimes to set mood and expectation and create drama. Would love to know if there is a word for it. I feel there is and I'm just being dense. Let me group source answers from poet connections on Twitter.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
It's the same word for both music and poetry: caesura.
Merriam-Webster online:

cae·su·ra | \ si-ˈzyu̇r-ə , -ˈzhu̇r- \
plural caesuras or caesurae\ si-ˈzyu̇r-(ˌ)ē , -ˈzhu̇r- \
Definition of caesura

1in modern prosody : a usually rhetorical break in the flow of sound in the middle of a line of verse
2Greek and Latin prosody : a break in the flow of sound in a verse caused by the ending of a word within a foot
3: BREAK, INTERRUPTION a caesura between the movie and its sequel
4: a pause marking a rhythmic point of division in a melody
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
In music, a caesura is the name of a sign indicating a pause of all the music - // - rather than a rest - it's a pause not written into the music, or at least that's how I have always used it. A rest is part of the rhythm of the piece, a caesura is outside of the regular rhythm. I don't know about poetry - the definition talks about the middle of a line, and in Greek poetry and some alliterative verse I have seen, that happens. Where there are regular beats and pause is where a regular beat would be, I'm not sure if it's the same. Is it a break in the line of verse, or a pause in the rhythm?
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
In music, a caesura is the name of a sign indicating a pause of all the music - // - rather than a rest - it's a pause not written into the music, or at least that's how I have always used it. A rest is part of the rhythm of the piece, a caesura is outside of the regular rhythm. I don't know about poetry - the definition talks about the middle of a line, and in Greek poetry and some alliterative verse I have seen, that happens. Where there are regular beats and pause is where a regular beat would be, I'm not sure if it's the same. Is it a break in the line of verse, or a pause in the rhythm?
Depends on the poem really. And often whether it’s primarily written for the page or to be spoken
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Rachel, while a caesura typically appears within a line, it can be at the end.


Caesurae are categorized based on where they appear in the line. Thus, there are three types:
  • Initial Caesura: this is when the pause appears at or near the beginning of the line.
  • Medial Caesura: the most common type of caesura, this is a pause in the middle of the line. Most of the examples in this article are medial caesura.
  • Terminal Caesura: a pause appearing at or near the end of the line.
https://literaryterms.net/caesura/
(They are also classed as masculine or feminine, depending on whether they fall after a stressed or unstressed syllable.)

Granted, most examples do seem to be medial, or at least initial. Terminal is not unheard of, though. This from 'Ozymandias' by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
My name is Ozymandias, || King of Kings; ||

I do see what you mean about the difference between a rest and a caesura, though - a caesura is a pause, yes, but it does not interrupt the pattern of beats/feet/stress/what-have-you in the poetic meter. What if the pause is a 'silent' unstressed syllable in the meter of the poem, rather than simply a pause for breath?


I am no poetry expert (I took the required freshmen English class in college, and that is the end of my formal English education), and Corey Olsen is obviously enthusiastic about studying and teaching poetry, so I'll leave the rest of this to him.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
My Hebrew is minimal, but there are some Biblical and liturgical poems in Hebrew that have very elaborate layouts on the page, but these spaces do not indicate pauses in the recitation. Some are breaks in the middle of lines, but some are a lot more complicated. Does that kind of thing occur in other languages as well?
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Been learning a tiny bit about the structure of Ancient Hebrew poetry (more content and structure than deep form) it’s all super interesting.

I would say, poetry is such a loose art. Yes, there are traditional structures which I think it’s really important to learn. Your sestinas and your sonnets. Understanding frameworks can be a really fun challenge when it comes to writing. Earendil/Errantry has its own shockingly hard rhyme scheme that is a super fun challenge. Then there’s the ideas of the Oulipo (look them up if you don’t know of them). But I’m of the opinion that none of that MAKES poetry. The rules don’t actually matter. I know there are academic terms and I’m definitely more familiar with ‘rest’ but caesarea definitely rings bells. I would say that I’ve seen poetry (intended for the page) written in prose like block text, scattered around the page, in a crossword. The form generally dictates the pauses. Often ends of lines do this, but any layout implies pace and rhythm. I used to get baffled when my uni professors read poetry in this very stilted mechanical way when the rhythm was there on the page. One of the banes of parenthood is children’s book where it feels like the author hadn’t read the book aloud or really had to force beats/rests to make it work. Julia Donaldson nails that. Could syllabic counting. But for me personally, most of my writing I intend to perform do it’s only written down in the construction phase. Then I record myself speaking it (sometimes it starts with me recording as lines come, pausing the recording till I have the next line, until a first draft is done). Either way, once it’s written I do a recording and it’s at this point I try to nail down rests snd pace and speed to make sure it works. Then I listen back to recordings again and again till I’ve memorised it. Not just the words, but the emotion and the spaces between. So I do write considering spaces but they are rarely nailed down firmly until a later point. I also know people who just don’t write them down. But as I say, even poetry intended exclusively for the page can be experimental.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
A rest is part of the rhythm of the piece, a caesura is outside of the regular rhythm.
In alliterative verse, the break in the middle of each line is a medial caesura, and it does indicate a pause in speaking. In modern translations, it is usually marked by a comma or a period, so it's more like a rest in music, though its length is up to the reader rather than the writer/composer.
In reading a poem in iambic septameter, I always pause for exactly one beat for the missing eighth iamb: that may be my musical training kicking in there. (Though in actual music I have a great love of 7/8 and other odd time signatures and polyrhythms; go figure.)
I have no expertise in any kind of poetical or musical theory, however and will forbear to say more.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
When I write poetry the pauses for reading aloud are generally dictated by punctuation - dashes, commas, periods, etc. In free verse, though, I find it matters to me where the lines end, whether the lines are enjambed or not, whether the phrase is complete on one line or not, though I don't know why that is so. In other forms of course the form dictates a lot - though I find myself more often, in iambic rhythm, to go for five beats rather than four because it seems more like regular speech. I remember when I was in school and reading Shakespeare that I would actually think in iambic pentameter. In a writing class I was once writing down thoughts and the sentences kept falling into iambic pentameter so I thought it probably wanted to be a sonnet. But who knows where that sort of thing comes from.
 

Bruce N H

Active Member
Professionally I'm an organic chemist, and there's a famous paper from 1970 in the Journal of American Chemical Society, where the whole thing is (sort of) in iambic pentameter. I've attached it if anyone is really curious, but here's the first paragraph. It's clunky, especially if you don't know the chemical terms:

"Reactions of potassium amide
With halobenzenes in ammonia
Via benzyne intermediates occur.
Bergstrom and associates did report,
Based on two-component competition runs,
Bromobenzene the fastest to react,
By iodobenzene closely followed,
The chloro compound lagging far behind,
And fluorobenzene to be quite inert
At reflux (—33°). "

My favorite part of the paper is the editor's note:

"Note from Editor.—Although we are open to new styles and formats
for scientific publication, we must admit to surprise upon receiving this paper.
However, we find the paper to be novel in its chemistry, and readable in its
verse. Because of the somewhat increased space requirements and possible
difficulty to some of our nonpoetically inclined readers, manuscripts in this
format face an uncertain future in this office. "
 

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