What Are Some Examples of Caesura in Beowulf?

The poem “Beowulf” has a caesura in almost every line. In fact, because the caesura was one of the fundamental features of Old English poetry, almost all poems written in that language have numerous examples of caesurae.

Each line of Old English poetry typically has four stressed syllables and a variable number of unstressed syllables separated in the middle by a caesura, or stopping point. Therefore, virtually any line of “Beowulf” features this literary device. Here are three opening lines of the poem: “Hwæt, we geardena in geardagum, / þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon / hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!” In these lines, the caesura falls after “geardena,” “þrym” and “æþelingas.”

In English translation, the caesura is sometimes harder to depict since the Modern English sense departs from the somewhat alien grammar of Old English. However, a translation of the poem’s first line retains the basic impact: “So! The Spear-Danes in days gone by…” The line resolves into two basic phrases, “So! The Spear-Danes” and “in days gone by.” Between these is the caesura. An Old English scop, or bard, would have paused lightly between these two half-lines. Old English poetry is also characterized by alliteration. Typically, the first stressed syllable before the caesura alliterates with the first one after the caesura.