Tuesday, November 4, 2014


The other night, as I was driving home, I spotted a hot air balloon off near the horizon.  Watching it hang there in the air, motionless from where I was, I thought: caesura.

example of a caesura in musical notation
I've loved "caesura" (pronounced si-ZHOO-ruh) ever since I first heard the word: both the word itself, and the idea.  A caesura is a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition, a breath between phrases or ideas.  Imagine the conductor's hands, held aloft in the upbeat.

They've been following me, caesuras, these recent weeks.  After the balloon sighting, my husband pointed one out the other day in the hymnal at church, wondering what it was.  It's a reminder, I think.

Living in balloon country, you get used to balloons, and yet, you never really do get used to them, either.  
When you see one, inevitably, you stop whatever you're doing to gawk at it for a bit.  Or you hold your breath for just a moment, with a little gasp.

How often do we do this?  Stop the routine, mindful of the break in regular meter?  In poetry and in music, the caesura gives the work meaning, draws attention to what will come next, sets expectations.  In life, too.

Students returned from a much-needed fall break this week.  Midterms made the atmosphere so tense that any ripple might cause someone to burst into tears; many of them see midterms as a final judgement, not a caesura.  And perhaps it would help if we could reframe them as an equally important "break," a pause before the next phrase begins.

But equally, I think, we need to find multiple moments between phrases, when we're--as one of my students put it--"traveling at warp speed and [still] feeling that you're not moving fast enough."  I used to do this with a weekly yoga class; now, leaving early and getting home late, I've lost that predictable (but also unpredictable) pause.  Even my drive home is filled with chatter.  Clearly, more and more students find themselves ill-equipped to pause, too.

I've been working, with some colleagues, on the framework for a retreat that inspires students to do just this: stop, reflect, set goals, check in.  Maybe the planning will do me some good.

Not that the reminder in the sky isn't welcome.

What do your caesuras look like?
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  1. Sometimes you hear a lot more sound in the silence than in the rest of the piece. Deeply love this post.

  2. Beautiful post. Love that you taught me a new word. Caesura for me (when I am not able to steady my breath in gentle yoga class) comes in gazing up at the sunset just as the sky turns pink, watching my husband sleep quietly next to me or catching a breeze tickle a tree.

  3. We were working on this just today in yoga class. I didn't know it had a name for it.

    Love the concept, the apostrophic reminder.

  4. God I love this concept. We've been running at warp speed for WEEKS. Between the gymnastics and the baseball and the impending job change and the laundry and the dishes and OMG DOES IT EVER STOP. I think sometimes my caesura is my short drive to work after school drop off, where I actually have been known to just shut off the music and drive. It's not a long commute but sometimes, as I round the corner and see the bridge (my favorite bridge, the very bridge I crossed as I finished my first half marathon), sometimes the sun is shining in just right and it's lit up and it reminds me that there are bigger things than me and it is a momentary sense of peace.

    Thank you for giving me a name for it.

  5. I really love this post and started following you on bloglovin'. Thanks for helping me to take a moment and pause. You're right, everything about the word "caesura" is wonderful.


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